Henrik Van Der Hune adjusted the dust mask over his mouth and nose. No matter which way it went, it was uncomfortable and left an itchy circumference around his nose and mouth. With a muffled sigh, he gave up on that endeavor and tried to focus on the stela that overspread his desk and hung a few inches off the side. It wasn't often anymore that he had to clean artifacts—in fact, he had had to run out and get a dust mask because he didn't keep them on his person anymore—but the normal person who did it had come down with the flu. Watson Museum had all the staff it needed for pinpoint specialization, plus separate people for cleaning and general maintenance to ensure that the specialists could specialize to their hearts' content.
The itchiness sank through his skin to his brain as his eyes followed the brush over the glyphs, longing to get to them, the real work. It brought him back to his Beech Hill days, and he chuckled to himself. Some things never changed.
There had been the less desirable strolls down memory lane, as well. Sonny Joon had called him a few days ago.
Perhaps he should have talked to him, but he hadn't had time. Mayan relics had a way of commanding his attention.
So much, in fact, that when two chatting people entered the room, a boy and a girl, he continued working. They weren't museum staff—he had committed the footsteps of everyone who worked here to memory—and they sounded like students. On he continued with the brush, even managing to forget in the meanwhile that he wasn't alone.
"I thought I'd better start the conversation now since you didn't look like you were going to stop anytime soon."
Henrik looked up.
A young redheaded woman stood over him with narrowed blue eyes and a little frown. "Cleaning artifacts?"
"Nancy… Drew?" he asked tentatively, standing.
The corners of Nancy's mouth rose. "It's good to see you, Henrik." Apart from a little more graying at the temples and the wrinkles now touching his eyes, he looked exactly the same.
Henrik flashed her one of his own rare smiles. "Well, what a lovely surprise."
"And now you're at Harvard." She laughed. "I take it Joanna wasn't too thrilled."
Henrik pursed his lips and drummed his fingers together. "Despite her… ill humor, I stayed on until Beech Hill was better than on its feet. By the time I left, it has earned a reputation. And since Joanna is in a perpetual state of upset, I don't believe my departure had any exceptional effect on her."
"How long have you been working at Harvard?"
"Just under two years. So what brings you here?"
"Well, Sonny and I—"
Henrik looked up. His heart seized. There had been something vaguely familiar about that head of strangely-colored hair, and once he looked closer, he saw that it was indeed his erstwhile colleague.
And he was examining one of his relics!
"More apt a question, what is he doing here?" Henrik asked, forcing his voice level as Sonny moved closer. "Please don't touch that."
Sonny whirled around. His free hand came within a few inches of the artifact as he did so.
Henrik's head began to spin. He sat again.
"Henrik!" he bounded over. "Long time, no see, eh?"
"Yes." He blinked, covering up his desk with a cloth and taking off the mask.
Nancy walked forward. "We were hoping you could help us," she began.
"Us?" he repeated dully.
"Yes," Sonny cut in. "You know that weird dig that's going on in Mexico I was talking about on the phone a few days back? Well, Nancy's going to help, uh, maybe," he looked at her, "and hopefully we all come out of this having learned something!"
"Apparently not if I choose to work with you again," Henrik muttered under his breath.
Sonny appeared not to hear in his wide-eyed excitement, but Nancy did. "We'd be in Mexico, far away from here," she leaned forward and said in an undertone. "We just need you to help get us there, if you're willing."
Nodding briefly, Henrik turned to address Sonny. "I must confess that I wasn't listening to your phone call. My mind was elsewhere."
Sonny's face fell.
Henrik sighed. Sonny wasn't a bad sort. Even if it was odd for him to be chagrined over Henrik's inattention when he failed to listen so many times himself. "What's this about?" he asked.
"Usrique. I'm sure you've heard of it."
"Yes. What's your interest in it?"
"I've been doing some of my own research on ancient cultures for years, which has led to some interesting finds in some interesting sites. Based on what I've been hearing in the news, this may be the next step."
"Yes, but what are you trying to achieve by all this r—oh." Henrik closed his eyes as he remembered. Over the years and series of horror stories retold, Sonny had become a ball of action with a complete absence of being. Somehow he had forgotten who Sonny was in the turmoil of all that he did.
And the boy was an alien believer.
Sonny began to speak into the silence.
"More of your so-called theories?" Henrik asked at the same time.
"Yes, though I'd just go with 'theories,'" Sonny replied. "Besides, isn't any kind of interest in Mayan culture better than it going ignored?"
"That depends on whether the artifacts lie in the right hands and are treated with respect."
"They would be," assured Nancy.
"Hmmm," Henrik said, looking from one to the other.
Sonny took this opportunity to pull up a lab stool and quickly explain what he planned to do. Nancy stood behind him and offered brief interjections, usually to offer an odd word or two he was looking for when he couldn't articulate them.
"The Mexican government is behind you on this?" Henrik asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Yes—the governor of Yucatán," Sonny said. "Others don't think that there's immediate cause for alarm, but the governor thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the site once it was brought to her attention, since there are signs of suspicious activity."
Henrik chuckled. "And who better than Americans to check it out?"
Nancy's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, my dear, that Mexican officials can't afford to look like a herd of clods should nothing turn up. They want foreigners." Henrik folded his hands on his desk and hooked his fingers lightly over the cloth-covered stela to prevent an upset. Sonny's eyes were back on his things. "You do know what you're getting into?"
"I have an idea."
"You're pitching yourself headlong into a hotbed of underground money and prestige. If these people know who they are and they hold a grudge against you, they will find a way to get rid of you. Nobody there is going to be your ally. You probably shouldn't fully trust the people I'm sending you with, either. You're safe here now, and you'll probably be relatively safe when you're out. However, I hate to think what would happen if your cover is blown. I've dealt with these people, as you know, and it seldom ends well." He turned to Sonny. "You're risking your life to do this, and you're risking hers. I would sooner put my life in Nancy's hands than in many others', but consider the risk as well as the amount of help you're getting. What is the governor offering you?"
Sonny tapped his foot against a metal rung of the stool. "Witness immunity. That covers our part in illegal activity by participating in the dig."
"No monetary compensation?"
"They're paying for the plane tickets."
Henrik scrutinized Sonny without blinking, waiting for him to continue.
"They're allowing me to do my own investigation there," Sonny said quickly. "There's no reason for money."
"I see," said Henrik. "And what makes me think that I can help you, or that I want to?"
Sonny gazed at the edge of his desk. "Um…"
"I saw that rather unfortunate drawing you made of me." Henrik said, uncovering the stela and grabbing his brush and mask. "Perhaps I don't go in to the doctor for routine checkups as often as I should, but I daresay I would know if there were a tumor of that size on my head."
"That wasn't a tumor," Sonny started to say before Nancy shot him a warning glance.
A long, uncomfortable silence followed.
"I also saw the one you did of Taylor." Henrik continued, making sure the mask was secure over his face before smiling.
Sonny cleared his throat. "That was a long time ago."
"Not so long as you think."
"I'm sorry. Your head is tiny—uh," Sonny stopped himself, "I mean, perfectly… normal-sized?"
Henrik returned to his work, nonplussed. For two months he had suffered at the hands of this hurricane nightmare. Sonny could certainly take the strain for a few measly minutes.
Nancy and Sonny exchanged glances, afraid that he was angry. Then they looked at him. Growing impatient, Nancy opened her mouth to speak, but Sonny held up a hand.
Although he kept his face carefully blank, Henrik had already made up his mind. Maybe it was the fact that he, too, had drawn an unflattering portrait of Taylor Sinclair—albeit thirty years ago, when he still had an afro—that endeared him to Sonny's current plan. Granted, it was a terrible reason to help anybody, especially anybody so irresponsible, but at least he'd be updating the history books again if this site was as old as alleged. Just the thought of the codices there, telling new stories and proving once again that history was open-ended, already had his heart beating faster.
Looking up at Nancy, he finally spoke. "Well, I would hate to see such an important discovery marred by careless excavation." Henrik paused. "A few years ago, I had a contact at the Uxmal dig, which is relatively nearby. Dr. Hector Fuentes, who is now retired. Uxmal is in the Puuc region, relatively close to Usrique. I'm guessing that the proximity of the dig to other Mayan sites has better allowed them to blend in."
Nancy's eyes sparked with anticipation. "Can you get us there?"
"Yes, I can. But it'll be far less suspicious if I send you as part of a larger group. And I first have to contact Dr. Fuentes so that they'll be expecting you. I haven't talked to him in some time, and it will be done discreetly; I am sure that no connection can be traced beyond him back to me."
"Do you have anyone in mind?" Sonny asked.
"A few people, yes." Henrik said thoughtfully. "There's a vagrant who works in the Puuc region to gather information for a research project he's working on. I give him information on dig opportunities so he can make a living and stay on in the region, and in return he provides me information on digs and the excavation of certain relics. He can probably help you. You'll also need someone to look into the black market end of things without arousing suspicion. Prove that there are ties to the dig in question. Nancy, you run the risk of blowing your cover if you ask too many questions, and Sonny, you lack any trace of discretion whatsoever."
Apparently deep in thought, Sonny simply murmured in agreement.
"Does either of you know anyone trustworthy who can infiltrate the black market?"
"Jamila mentioned somebody." Sonny thought aloud. "Some tour guide she met in Egypt. Dressed like Indiana Jones, was a bit of a jerk according to her."
"Sounds like Dylan Carter," Nancy said.
Sonny nodded. "That's who it was."
"He was trying to get a connection in the black market on one of my past cases," she explained to Henrik.
"Well, Nancy, the fact remains that I still owe you dearly for your help in unearthing Amoxcalli's words and seeing that they made it into historical records. This is certainly the least I can do for you in return. If there's anything else I can ever do for you, feel free to drop by. And," his smile faded slightly as he regarded the other, "Sonny, I suppose it's good to see you again."
"Likewise!" Sonny stuck out a hand, which Henrik gingerly shook. "You're a credit to your museum!"
"Thank you so much, Henrik," Nancy said as they embraced.
"Pretty soon I'll like to bring a colleague of mine out here to meet you," Sonny said. "Her name is Jamila El-Dine."
Jaw set, Henrik nodded. Briefly he wondered what he was in for—Sonny's cohorts as Sonny facsimiles, or perhaps a pleasant surprise. He decided it most prudent to prepare for the first and hope for the latter.
The drive back to Boston Largon International Airport was short and largely silent. Because most everything had been explained on the plane and drive up, there was nothing much left to say. Both were too tired for pleasantries.
After walking to Nancy's gate, Sonny turned to her. "It's a bit of a mess. But what do you think?"
Almost immediately Nancy said, "I'll do it."
"Are you sure about this, Sonny?"
"Really, really sure."
"Just a reminder that he hasn't exactly proven himself trustworthy in the past."
"I know you don't like him, Jamila. I'm just asking you to talk to him. Then send him to the States, and you'll never have to talk to him again."
"What's to say that he won't sell us out for people at the site if they're willing to pay him more?"
"Look, if feel that strongly that he shouldn't be involved, I won't bring him on. You're of sound judgment. But can you talk to him first before making that decision?"
"I suppose it couldn't hurt."
"Yeah, considering that we don't know anybody else who has or did have ties to the black market and is relatively trustworthy." Pause. "You sure you're okay talking to him?"
"Yeah. I'll take care of it," Jamila adjusted her umbrella at an upwards angle so she could see the clock in the square. She frowned. "And don't think I've forgotten what time it is there. You'd better get some sleep."
"Yes, man," Sonny yawned. "Ma'am."
"Talk to you later." She hung up, stretched out her thumb, and began dialing again. She took the few seconds of ringing to run through a mental list of affordable cafés. If Dylan was as poor as she thought, then it was highly likely she'd be picking up the bill.
The phone rang twice before someone picked up. "Hello?" asked a sleepy voice.
Jamila laughed dryly. "It's 11 AM, and you're sleeping?"
"This is Jamila El-Dine. Perhaps you don't remember me. I was at Nefertari's tomb."
"Ah! Pseudo-spacegirl." Dylan said. "What can I do for you?"
"You can meet me for lunch. I need your help with something."
Jamila blinked. She hadn't expected it to be this easy. "Red Leaf, 13 Bedford Row. One sound good?"
Two hours and five minutes later, Jamila sat alone at a table in the window, her fingers curled comfortably around a cup of hot tea. Of course the window hadn't done much good after the rain came down harder and the fog settled in. At this point she could only hope that late meant late and not no-show. Thanks to the rain and the imminent company she already wasn't in the greatest of moods. If she had to sit another hour in damp clothes she would soon grow dour.
Finally Dylan strolled in with water trailing down his sleeves and pant legs. He took a few steps and craned his neck in several directions, apparently in no great hurry, and waved gaily when he saw her.
"You're late." She said as he approached.
"Sorry. Traffic." He slid into the seat opposite her. "So, this a little Egypt reunion then? Quite nice, I must say."
"Are you still trying to find connections to the black market?" Jamila asked the second he was finished talking.
Dylan's eyes widened, and he blinked a few times. "Ah, I, um," he stuttered. At a loss for the right answer, if Jamila had to guess.
She sighed. Apparently she would have to help him out by telling him a little of the assignment. Oh well. Fair was fair. But it still made her less happy than if he was honest of his own accord. "How is the guide business going?" she asked.
"Terrible," he blinked again, still in mild shock.
"Good. My friends and I just might know of a new place for you."
"New as in… brand new?" He leaned forward slightly.
"No other guides," Jamila said. "We have a job for you regarding your… skills."
Dylan paused. "What exactly does this involve?"
"Trying to find a connection again." Jamila shook her head and corrected herself. "Actually, no, not trying. Finding a connection."
The gleam in Dylan's eye was unmistakable, although he at least had the decency to point out that he had promised not to engage in such transactions anymore. "What's your interest in the black market, anyway?" he asked coolly.
"I am interested in some suspicious relics that are probably being sold illegally. I would like to study them, but I can't if I don't know their whereabouts."
"So, scrapping the eloquence, you want to expose black market dealings."
"I want to track those pieces." A waiter arrived with a dish that Jamila had ordered before Dylan came. She thanked him.
After ordering and receiving his own food, Dylan continued the conversation. "But your priority is finding out for sure whether they went through the black market."
"What makes you think so?" Jamila examined the tablecloth.
"You hate the black market and everyone in it."
Dylan laughed. "Jamila, as a person who deals with people day in and day out, I'm fairly expert at knowing what people think of me, and I know for a fact that you hate me. Almost as much as you hated Abdullah."
Jamila looked up. "That would be true," she replied, unrepentant.
"Besides, if you care about artifacts, you hate the black market by default."
"Which is why you would be so helpful. I suspect you don't much care."
Wincing, Dylan averted his eyes. "Look, artifacts aren't just money to me. But they are money, and I'm a little short on that these days."
Jamila studied him. From the threadbare shirt to the way he picked at his salad a little too nonchalantly before taking bites, she grudgingly accepted that what he said was probably the truth. "That is why I'm here," she said. "We can pay you if you look into things. And after a little while, you can set up tours there."
"Of course, 'we.' Did you think I work alone?"
"And where exactly is this?"
"First things first. Are you willing to help us?"
"Smart of you." Dylan nodded. "How ironclad?"
"If you help us," Jamila began, "you will be automatically authorized to do tours in that particular place by the national government. I already squared that. And if you prove yourself trustworthy and helpful in this endeavor, there will be less red tape for setting up tours in other places." Thank goodness the governor had still been up when Sonny had called about the tour guide idea, she thought to herself.
"But where is this?"
"Which do you love more?" Jamila asked. "England, or being a tour guide?"
Dylan groaned in exasperation, rolling his head back until he was looking at the ceiling. "Can you at least tell me the general vicinity before I sign over my services?"
After a pause, Jamila acceded. "Mexico. Yucatán Peninsula."
"Oh." Dylan brightened. "Well. The way you were going on about it, I thought you were going to say Antarctica."
"Well they certainly don't have any tour guides there," Jamila said wryly.
"This sounds pretty good, I must say."
"I feel obliged to warn you that there is a certain amount of risk. Not much, mind you, seeing as you are only providing us a little information in return."
Dylan rested his hands behind his head. "Risk never scared me."
"You in, then?"
"Well, good. That takes care of that."
"Speaking of," Dylan's eyes lowered to the bill their waiter just placed in front of them. "I'm utterly humiliated to ask this of you, but…"
For a few moments she considered this. "Are you really that bad off?"
He leaned further forward. "I haven't worked in a month," he whispered.
"I see." She stared down at the bill. This wasn't Dylan's style of manipulation.
"I promise that sometime I'll take you out to the best dinner of your life. Ritz or better."
Exaggeration. Trademark of the showman.
"Forget it," she replied.
"I try not to forget things, or people. So I guess I'll be seeing you?"
"No. I won't be going to Mexico."
"Ah." Dylan offered her a wan smile. "Well, in that case, until we meet again."
After he had taken care of everything with Dr. Fuentes, Henrik went back to his trusty HAM Radio to make a second call.
3,000 miles away in the hills sat a lonely tent with a young man sitting outside of it. He wiped his brow. The temperature had grown several degrees cooler at dusk, and the sweat on his clothes began to chill him. With his long dark bangs out of his eyes, he could see for a moment.
When something within the tent started to crackle, he stilled and sat up straighter. Squinting at a row of dots on the sun-rimmed horizon, he pushed his shovel off his knees and crawled inside. One table, one radio, and a pile of sheets comprised his main belongings, plus a messy stack of photos next to his "bunk." His eyes went immediately to the radio.
"Dutchman calling Rex. Come in, Rex."
He picked up, twirling the microphone between his fingers. "This is Rex." Rex of X would be a cooler name, he thought to himself. Too bad it was too late to suggest it to the old man.
"I've got an assignment for you, Rex."
"You're out in the Puuc region, right? West portion?"
"Have there been people out there?"
"Looks like it."
"Good. How's your project going?"
"Well, hope you don't mind doing some more digging in that downtime. I know about some people in the area who are looking for work. They'll pay you."
"Money, huh?" The word was almost foreign on his dry tongue. "Just to keep digging? Is there anything you want from the site?"
"I'd like it if you could keep an eye on the other diggers."
The young man frowned. "Exactly how much is this paying?"
"It'll pay enough to keep you in the area a little while longer to do your own work on the side. And since the Puuc region is a little sleepy right now for dig sites, I highly suggest you go there to work."
"Look, man, I owe you for your telling me where to get work around here. That's helped a lot with my project. But this sounds dangerous."
"Not if you don't appear suspect, which you won't. Just leave the radio out here for a while."
"You mean, don't contact you?"
"What about this little setup we've got? What if you need to contact me with other job opps?"
"That won't be necessary as long as you're at Usrique. If something happens to your old HAM in your absence, I'll wire money to Tekax to pay for a new one. Meanwhile, if you could just keep your eyes open, that would be very helpful to me. Think you can do that, Mr. Talbot?"
Lou nodded to himself. Then, remembering at the last moment that Henrik couldn't see this, he picked up the microphone. "Okay, Dutchman."