"So, when exactly did Jamila stop her insanity act? Afraid I must have missed it while I was in hospital."
"It came up in conversation," Nancy replied offhandedly to Dylan as they left baggage claim at Manuel Crescencio Rejón Airport in Mérida, the capital of Yucatán.
"That's not exactly something Jamila would just tell you. What I mean was, how did you find out?"
Nancy looked down at the feet of someone twenty feet ahead and shrugged. "I, uh, stumbled on it."
"Whose stuff did you snoop?"
"Nobody's, okay? I just found it."
"Just like you 'found' those credentials of mine."
Nancy grimaced and didn't answer. She had to work on snooping-related excuses.
"Has she always been so smart?"
"You'd have to ask her that."
"You never told me she lives in London."
"Until now, you didn't seem so interested."
Dylan raised his hands. "Just trying to make sense of what's going on here. Until last week, nobody wanted anything to do with me."
His words drifted farther from Nancy's mind as she looked toward the other three designated diggers who had flown out with them. Until then they hadn't been able to talk properly. A short layover in Atlanta had left little time for introductions, and they all had been sitting far apart on the plane. But it was fairly easy to tell who from whom—the woman was Holly Klee, the Scandinavian man had a Scandinavian name, Norgaard, along with blond hair and light green eyes, and Richard Reeves was the other man left by default. The two men were chatting amiably while the woman faced away from them, arms crossed high over her chest. Although they were close to the transportation area, they had stopped walking.
Approaching them, Nancy asked, "Why are we stopped?"
Alexander Norgaard smiled and nodded at an orange head some distance ahead. "He told us to wait here."
Nancy looked closer. Sonny and an older man were engaged in conversation near the doors.
"They've been talking for a few minutes already," Richard Reeves added with a laugh. "Seems they've forgotten about us. Were you two detained at baggage claim?"
Nancy nodded. She preferred to travel discreetly. Her suitcase was black, a common color, harder to pick out from the other luggage.
Dylan's, on the other hand, was lost.
For another minute or two everybody stood around, saying nothing to one another. Dylan began to whistle.
Shaking her head, she walked past them and over to Sonny and his acquaintance. "Hello, Sonny."
Sonny looked over, surprised. "Hi, Nancy."
She turned to the stranger. "I'm Nancy Drew. Is there anything I can help with?"
"My name is Hector Fuentes." He bowed his head slightly. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Henrik told me to be expecting you. Mr. Joon and I were just working out the travel details. It is a two-hour drive from Mérida to Tekax, and from there there is a car to take you to the dig."
"Has it already been arranged?"
"No." Sonny muttered. "Apparently Henrik made the arrangements for Tekax, but he expected me to take care of getting us to the site."
"It's not a problem," Dr. Fuentes assured quickly. "We're just in the process of finding drivers who works intercity. Most of the ones readily available at the airport only serve Mérida. The only reason why we're not able to make arrangements more quickly is because the size of your party necessitates two cars. At the moment only one is available."
"We called in another one, but it'll take a few minutes," Sonny added.
"What about shuttles or vans?" Nancy asked.
"No vans available. As for shuttles—it is too far. No shuttle will take you to Tekax. And there is an ongoing transit strike, so you can't be bussed in."
"That's all right; it sounds like we're doing everything we can do."
"So, you are interested in archaeology." Dr. Fuentes said to Nancy. "A PhD student?"
Nancy chuckled. "Afraid not. Just interested."
He turned to Sonny. "What about you?"
"Yeah, at one time. I left the program."
"While I am no longer a professor, I remain obligated to direct interest toward the Universidad de Guanajuaro. Wonderful archaeology and anthropology programs. I highly recommend."
Nancy smiled. With fondness she remembered Jon Boyle's sitcom-addled expressions and Professor Hotchkiss's inability to recall names. She suspected that she'd go to college just for the quirks of the professors and to try and discover what made them tick.
It felt so fantastic to be on another case.
Sonny turned around and waved to the others.
Tentatively they waved back.
He shook his head and waved again, beckoning them.
Individually they approached. Dylan sauntered up to them first, unhampered by the weight of luggage. Alexander followed with long, deliberate strides. Richard attempted to keep up by walking faster, and Holly brought up the rear. "What's the holdup?" She asked when she arrived, half a minute behind the others.
"Second car," Sonny said. "Could take a while."
Dr. Fuentes' phone rang. He picked up.
Holly looked down and shifted her weight from foot to foot. "I didn't go on sabbatical for this," she muttered flatly.
"What did you go on sabbatical for? Thought the main point was just to get away from the students." Richard stretched nonchalantly. "Know I'm sick of picking up after them."
"Some of us have loftier aspirations, Mr. Reeves," Holly replied frigidly, missing the joke.
"True," he replied, unfazed.
Holly turned away from everyone and looked pointedly towards the doors. She moved stiffly, Nancy noticed, no doubt from sitting in a chair so much. She probably hadn't been on a dig in years. Richard had the hunched posture of a janitor, but he also had open body language. Alexander, who hadn't spoken in a few minutes, was much harder to read. Right now his attention was elsewhere, and he was neither smiling nor frowning.
"Well, that was fun," Dylan said festively. "Hard to say whose aspirations are loftier when we're all at the same altitude."
Nobody else did.
Dr. Fuentes continued to mutter in Spanish for a spell before hanging up. "Thirty minutes," he announced.
Holly's expression soured.
Alexander massaged his temples.
Richard just pulled his lips inward and sat on his suitcase.
"I'm very sorry to leave you at this point, but I only expected to stay for a short time, and I'm needed elsewhere," Dr. Fuentes continued. "It's been a pleasure."
The others said their goodbyes, and he left. Nancy, Dylan, and all the others went to stand closer to the doors. Sonny stayed where he was.
A few minutes later there was a sudden movement in Nancy's peripheral vision.
Sonny sent her a subtle two-fingered wave, trying not to attract additional attention. "Traffic's horrible," he mouthed. "May be longer."
Nancy squinted. Her vision was good, but he was too far away.
He repeated the statement.
Understanding this time, she nodded and then pointed to the others.
He shook his head. "Tensions."
Nancy walked over to stand next to him. "Only five or ten minutes, right?"
"Yeah," he said. "They're just driving from downtown, apparently. Seems better not to worry them since it won't be much longer."
Holly looked suspiciously at them.
Nancy leaned closer to the side and spoke low, her hair brushing Sonny's cheek. "Yeah, 'tensions' is correct. What exactly happened to me being out of the crossfire?"
Sonny laughed nervously. "You can take care of yourself, right?"
She turned her head to look at him. "Rhetorical question, right?" she murmured with a little grin.
"Of course." He replied. "Happy to be on a case?"
"Hiatus after this?"
"Too early to say."
"Sonny!" Dylan interrupted.
They looked up as he moved toward them.
"Since I lost my luggage, I was wondering if I could mooch a few things off you." He lowered his voice. "Been meaning to ask you. Anybody bothered to explain why we're in the safest state in Mexico, and they haven't bothered cracking down on, erm," he raised his eyebrows, "activities?"
Nancy took a quick look around to ensure the others were out of earshot.
"I've already checked," he told her. He nodded to where Alexander stood outside. Holly had started in that direction. Richard was gone, presumably to use the restroom.
"You've done your research," Nancy remarked.
Both turned expectantly to Sonny.
Sonny rolled his eyes. "I see how it is. I'm supposed to know everything." He took a dramatic pause, then continued. "But I do actually know this one. Yes, it's the safest state in Mexico, but keeping it safe takes a lot of effort apparently. And you've got diplomacy, Dylan. We all do."
"I know, I know. It just seemed a little bit odd. And I figured this'll be the last time we'll be having clarificatory conversations. But I thought that maybe someone from the government is… involved."
"It's possible," allowed Nancy, "though I need to get to the site to be able to draw any definitive conclusions or even get an impression."
Soon the cars arrived. Richard climbed into the front while Nancy, Dylan, and Sonny crawled into the back. Alexander and Holly took the second car.
Nancy had been the only one not to sleep.
At times it was lonely when no one shared her vigilance, but she contented herself with surveying the people around her. Now was one of the only times she could do so without having to be discreet.
There wasn't much to observe from the back of Richard's head except for the fact that he had a stiff neck.
Looking to the opposite end of the car, Nancy saw that Dylan had slid forward in his seat, and his head stuck to the window. A few times he stirred when his head knocked into it on some of the rougher turns, but he went largely undisturbed.
Tapping a spot on her forearm near her elbow, she redirected her attention to Sonny, who was crammed in the middle. He hadn't appeared to move from his conscious state to sleep, his face was engaged but untroubled. He'd fallen asleep before he got the chance to take his glasses off. How could he sleep, though, being squished like that? For a moment Nancy wished she had taken the spot least comfortable for sleeping since she didn't plan on doing so. It also would have given her a better vantage point to observe the others and see what she could figure out about them, she added quickly to herself.
As she continued to study him, Nancy wondered briefly what she looked like at the end of the day, curled up and conked out after sleuthing. Miraculously she managed to avoid sleep deprivation despite all of the traveling and the lack of down time, sort of like she skirted concussions from all of the blunt trauma to her head. And fortunately, on a scale from zero to Casey Porterfield, she'd only been mildly scrambled in the aftermath.
Now that more people were recognizing her, she knew she had to be careful—trust nobody completely, not even Dylan.
Or Sonny. She still knew too little about him.
Yet as he slept, half-departed from the world, he looked completely guileless.
And now she found she could almost read him.
She shook her head. Trust had to come by objectivity and informed choices.
Not by impulse. Not by accident.
He shifted slightly, and his eyes opened.
"Are we there?" he asked blankly.
"No," she replied. "What woke you up?"
"I'm a light sleeper." He yawned. "What's up?"
"Nothing. Go back to sleep."
"You don't need to boss me around, you know. I already have Jamila for that."
Nancy didn't answer.
Sonny became silent. After a few minutes, Nancy guessed that he was no longer awake.
The rest of the ride went uneventfully. When the driver finally arrived at the outskirts of down and pulled off the road, Nancy woke the others. She stepped out of the car and offered the sluggish Sonny a hand. As she did so, she caught sight of two Land Rovers a few feet more off the road and a man leaning on the front of it. How long had he been waiting? she wondered. He looked oddly familiar, with shaggy dark hair and glasses and a casual air.
Nancy retracted her hand. Forgetting Sonny as he tumbled out of the car as a result, she walked a few steps forward.
The man looked up. His eyes widened slightly.
"Do I know you?" she asked.
For a few seconds his mouth moved soundlessly. Then he looked away. "Uh, no. No, you don't."
Everybody else started filing out of the car, and Sonny got up off the ground.
The air was hot and thick. Aureate light filtered through several holes in a patched gray sky. A cluster of bruised clouds drifted past, and a few raindrops pounced leisurely on the tip of Nancy's nose. The young man haphazardly placed a hand over his head to shield himself.
He knew her, all right, and he wasn't friendly. But was he dangerous? A relative to someone she had put in jail? Family resemblance?
Nancy gritted her teeth. Why couldn't she remember?
Sonny took time in brushing dirt from his clothes. He threw Nancy a cool glance. "Thanks a lot," he said. "Great timing for a prank. Couldn't be better."
She waved him off and continued thinking. Who was it?
Finally it came to her, blurry, at first. A lodge. A table. An older Canadian man.
He was so misplaced here in the heat!
"Lou," she murmured.
He looked up sharply.
"Lou Talbot, right?"
"Yeah." He looked unhappy.
"That feels like it was eight years ago or something," she said in disbelief.
"You didn't have to leave so abruptly." Nancy offered a small smile. "I didn't mean to embarrass you."
"I had heard about another place where bones were turning up."
"Not on private property, I hope."
"Don't see how that's any of your business."
"If you're stealing, then yeah, it is."
"Well, I'm not going to be stealing anything on this site, and I don't discuss my past."
Nancy's eyes hardened. But she couldn't push him too hard, she reminded herself. If he found out that she was a detective and then turned out to be untrustworthy, that could turn out badly for her. And if the other diggers found out about his past as a thief, that could turn out badly for them all.
How could she find out if he was trustworthy, though? Nancy looked around for some belongings around him or on his person, anything she could look through later to determine whether Lou had any hidden affiliations. To her chagrin, however, there appeared to be nothing apart from a rolled blanket in his possession.
"So, everybody," Lou raised his voice. "You're tired. I'm tired. I suggest we get moving. Other driver's in the other car. He's either shy or he's sleeping."
Lou climbed into his own car and shut the door. Slowly the others followed. This time Nancy opted for the car with the two strangers.
Once moving, Nancy tried several times to engage them in conversation. Alexander spoke concisely when addressed, but Holly answered with pointed sighs and sometimes, if Nancy was fortunate, one-word answers. In 40 minutes she had learned that Alexander was a newly-hired associate professor at Wesleyan. He had completed his doctoral work in early Mesoamerican civilizations with a concentration on the Maya and the Puuc region the year prior. Holly had been compiling research for a book and finished earlier than anticipated. Although Nancy was careful in remembering the details, the words exchanged didn't stay with her mind. She had to stifle several yawns out of politeness. She really should have slept in the car like the others.
The first thing Nancy noticed upon arriving was the size of the dig. She had participated in several digs over the years, but they all had been only a dozen people or so. Of course they had all been university digs, so maybe those were more intimate. Here, though, there were twenty-five to thirty people. More people meant less attention and an easier job for her. But how had they themselves been able to evade attention from the government? Maybe Dylan was right.
Upon closer glance she was surprised to see a pile of cloth and poles on the ground. Tents. It was odd enough that they were not erected, but, even more strangely, they were not white, but green. The shade was darker in some areas than in others, while some spots appeared almost white. It looked as though someone had taken a fistful of grass and smeared it over the cloth.
They had certainly gone to great lengths to blend in.
This was all she observed before one of the men noticed their arrival and walked over to greet them. As he drew closer Nancy saw that he was short and barrel-chested. "You must be the people Harvard sent," he said. "You come highly recommended from Dr. Fuentes. I'm Beltrán Gerro, leader of the Mexican team."
Another man appeared behind him and listened as he spoke. His eyes narrowed on Nancy.
Nancy beamed at them both. "I can't wait to get started."
Beltrán nodded. "Eager. Good. This is my friend José Mercedez from the Honduran team."
José stared at Nancy a moment longer before returning to the dig.
Beltrán opened his arms for a moment to introduce the busy sight before them. Then he placed them at his sides and smiled. "It is close to sunset, so we are putting up the tents. Please. Unpack. We, too, are eager for you to join us."
As he followed José, Nancy's mind returned to the thought of things ending badly. What exactly did that mean? Was any of the men here armed? Were they all armed? The others moved ahead of her with their suitcases. She continued to ponder.