Road Whose Course Does Not Turn Back

Chapter 8

It was a clear and sunny day in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The sun had risen early. From the way people smiled, Henrik was sure something was wrong. For all the time he wasn't being assailed by his boss's orders, he incessantly tapped his pencil against his temple, wondering how he had become so distractible. Surely the weather was to blame.

Since Henrik got in, he had been fielding phone calls from Watson's curator telling him to hurry with his translation work because the deadline for the new exhibit had been pushed up a week, Holly Klee demanding to know what exactly was going on at the site, his father wondering why he never called home, and countless others. Almost the minute he had unlocked his office his cell phone had started vibrating. That call had been from a very drunken Joanna Riggs begging him to return to Beech Hill and relieve her of her current epigrapher-from-Hell. As much as it had impressed him that she could have arrived at such a state by eight in the morning, he'd had to refuse. She had called him a few choice words without really meaning them and hung up.

Since then, it had been almost nonstop.

Henrik's weary eyes pushed upward to the clock. 1 PM. After taking a quick look around the room (as if anybody else would be there), Henrik reached for the newspaper he'd picked up from his doorstep that morning. A little light reading would serve him well.

He turned to international news.

Briefly he skimmed through headlines. War this, economic crisis that. General global decay.

But soon something caught Henrik's eye.

Mexican Artifacts' Questionable Provenance Draws Cultural Diplomats

A special day it was, indeed, when America's leading newspapers decided to cover the southern hemisphere for a change.

"On Saturday the United Nations met to discuss the state of black market activity in Mesoamerica," Henrik read. Perhaps this should have been good news, but instead he became wary. He continued. "'The black market is thriving particularly because it's adapted to the circumstances,' said Tom Russell, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. 'It's equally there and not there. It can disappear anytime anybody's looking for it. But suspicious activity seems to be off the charts there, which leads me to believe that the governments in Mexico and Central America are doing little if anything to stop it.'"

Neither here nor there, Henrik thought to himself. Everybody else had known that for years. Leave it to the nations' governments to lag hopelessly behind.

"Others are concerned that black market activity of the region is undermining legitimate trade on a global scale." This was followed by another quote: "'Illicit trade of antiquities is becoming common, accepted," said archaeologist Mary Bertram. "In its own way, it's legitimate. And not only is that not fair in and of itself, but it's taking away from all of the people who are trading it on the level. Mayan artifacts are sought all over the world. I fear that people will keep gravitating towards the black market until it becomes habit and the legitimate trade will lose its market. It has to stop."

Maybe, but why did Henrik get the feeling that this was going to be followed by some insipidly ludicrous proposal?

"Many nations ambassadors have resolved to travel to the area and conduct their own investigations."

There it was. An inherent logical fallacy. Going in there completely transparently, knowing that these dealers would seep through the cracks once they knew their activities were surveilled, yet hoping that it'd be somehow different this time.

His restlessness precluded him from reading the rest of the article. How on earth would the Mexican government justify allowing Nancy and her crew in followed immediately by a slew of diplomats? How had the diplomats not been declared personae non grata yet?

Picking up his phone, Henrik dialed for the governor.

The line clicked. "Alessandra Moreno."

"This is Dr. Van Der Hune," he said coldly. "I called you shortly after the investigation at Usrique launched."

"I'm very busy, Dr. Van Der—"

"Yes, you can help me," Henrik cut across, "by telling me what the hell is going on."

Her voice turned angry. "What are you talking—"

"I've heard about your swarm of new visitors. Diplomats."

"I am under an enormous amount of pressure—"

"So you're just leaving the current investigators out to dry?"

"No! I informed the Mexican state governor of the ongoing investigation there. He bought some time with the U.N. officials, but they're very impatient. They want their own investigation. They are putting us under an enormous pressure."

"To perform an investigation that will ultimately be futile. Be sure and forward my congratulations."

"I am aware that the situation is… less than ideal."

"Now things are a good deal more dangerous for my contacts, I'll have you know. Everyone will be suspicious thanks to the news. The black market dealers will start screening people on-site. And if the diplomats come to investigate, their cover will surely be blown."

"I'm aware, Dr. Van Der Hune."

"And how are you going to protect them?"

"I'm not sure if we can."

"I see," Henrik replied dryly. "And I suppose you wouldn't consider getting them out of there."

"Their investigation is better than the one proposed; it's more covert. Besides, the young man who called me sounded very eager to go to the site," she tacked on.

"He doesn't know his dangers."

"Judge me all you like," she answered heatedly. "You would have done exactly the same thing. For years, years I have been forced to stand by and watch as artifacts get panhandled and the government just ignores it. He wanted to investigate. He got to investigate. I have to go."

The line clicked.

Henrik slouched forward in his seat, rubbing his hands down his face. For weeks, Usrique wasn't important enough for anyone to pay attention to. Now they decided to investigate. Now they decided they needed people down there.

Nancy was capable, at the very least. And maybe Sonny knew his dangers. From what he'd heard, Sonny was certainly in danger enough of the time for the average person to know.

Thumbing through his contacts, Henrik paused at Nancy's number. Direct contact would certainly be the quickest way to warn her and the others of possible danger.

But he had been so careful that this investigation couldn't be traced back to him, that Dr. Fuentes couldn't be traced back to him. If Nancy's phone fell into the wrong hands, it might at the very least result in questions. Henrik didn't know any of the diggers at Usrique—of that he was fairly sure—but other diggers knew other diggers who may have known smugglers or some of his other past associates.

With that thought looming over his head, he moved past Nancy's number to the one Sonny had left with him.

Jamila El-Dine.

If she could somehow contact Sonny or Nancy with the news, it would be safer. As an Egyptologist, she didn't work with the same set of people.

After he pushed in the number the phone rang several times, each grating a little more on Henrik's nerves. It didn't help that he had actual work to do, and the longer this took, the more likely someone would be at the door nagging him to do it.

"This is Jamila El-Dine. Please leave a message at the beep."

"My name is Henrik Van Der Hune." Henrik stifled a sigh at what he'd have to say next. "Sonny Joon gave me your number. I'm concerned about the timeline for this project. Please call me as soon as possible."

He hung up. As he grew older, Henrik felt more and more like the temperamental artist archetype. He could work for long periods of time, but he preferred to be inspired.

Again he looked at the clock.

1:15.

This was going to be a long day.

His cell phone began vibrating again.

A long, long day.


Paris looked cold that night. Even from the window of a toasty radiator-heated apartment, the wind lines were almost visible. Renee would have liked to continue looking, but call time was in an hour and a half. She had to prepare.

14-year-old Jane Penvellyn lay on her stomach on the floor, alternately pumping her feet up in the air while she read a magazine. At one point her eyes froze on a sentence, and she slammed her finger down on the page and leapt up. "Mum, what's this?" She asked, bounding over to Renee, who was in front of her vanity.

Renee looked over at the magazine briefly before returning to her reflection. "Diplomats doing what diplomats do."

"Now that Dad's the ambassador, do you think he'll be going, too?"

"Why? Do you want to go to Mexico?"

"Well, I've never been there, have I? And Dad's taken me on a lot other of his trips. I've been to now," Jane counted on her fingers, "North America, Asia, Australia, Afr—" she frowned, then nodded. "Yeah. The one time I was in Marrakech for a day. Africa, and of course Europe. Five of the seven continents," she declared.

"Mexico's in North America, you know."

"Hmmm…" Jane frowned again. "I suppose you're right. But I've still never been to Central America."

"Mexico's not in Central America, Janie. Isn't Therese teaching you geography?"

Jane's frown turned to a glower. She didn't think that she'd dislike any tutor more than Ethel, but Therese was so old. She was a Bonapartist 200 years after the fact and hated all English people. She couldn't wait to go back to Blackmoor when it was her father's turn to take her.

"Don't do that with your face, Janie, dear. It makes you look dark and later gives you wrinkles."

Jane sighed. "I don't care about wrinkles."

"You will in a few years."

"I don't think I ever will."

"Just wait."

"Well, either way, Dad never gets assignments in that part of the world. He's always in Prague, or Munich, or Rome. Which is surprising. It seems like America's having the most problems playing nice with other countries, but everybody else just ignores it." She popped one of Renee's chocolates into her mouth. "And this one might just be big enough for Dad. It's got a lot of people cross."

"Which is why you're smiling, no doubt."

"But I rather like making people cross, isn't it fun?"

"It's fun on the stage," Renee agreed. Although she wouldn't admit it, she derived that same glee from working off the emotions of other singers on the stage. Off the stage she liked it just as much, bringing out people's emotions, which typically meant angering them, since people—especially Englishers—didn't appreciate wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Hugh had divorced her for a reason. Opera was for the passionate.

"Anyway, you've got Boheme, so you won't miss me."

"But who will I play games with?" Renee asked with a knowing smile.

"Mum, you can make up games! It's not that hard."

"For you, it's not. You know the woman who designed my dress?"

"Yeah?" With distaste, Jane looked at the strapless red dress with lace and ruching on the sides.

"One time I got a furious letter from her in the post. The server on your website had been down."

"How did she know you were my mother?"

"I don't know. I met her at the stage door one night. She wanted to see how her costumes looked on stage—I was wearing this dress, as a matter of fact. I think I happened to mention that the Jane from the Internet was my daughter."

"She knew who I was?" She asked, impressed.

"Apparently."

"And then she went to jail." Jane pursed her lips in disapproval. "Why do you still have the dress from then? She was a madwoman."

"Maybe, but her designs weren't mad."

Eyeing the dress again, Jane reached out and pulled at the fabric. "Why does your company only do modern interpretations, Mum? I think the costumes would be so much better if they were period."

"No idea, Janie. But I do know that I have to go." Renee rose and reached for her clutch.

"Can I go with Dad?" Jane popped up in front of her, blocking the purse from her hand. "CanIcanIcanI?"

"Ask Hugh. Although I can't imagine why he'd say no," she added, mostly to herself.

"Yes!" Jane embraced Renee. "You're the best!"

"You don't even know that he's going yet!"

"Oh, I know." Her grin split her face. "I have a feeling."


Dylan tapped his boot against soil on one of the hills in Beltrán's usual spot, watching everybody work. After the first burst of trust, things had plateaued. José and Beltrán were seldom out of sight, and Dylan knew they were watching him. Apparently they wanted to see what he would do with the information they had already given him before giving him more. Dylan understood, but it was tedious. He was impatient. Things here were moving too slowly.

What his next step would be, Dylan had no idea. Unfortunately there was no way to speed things up without drawing suspicion from the team leaders. He had to find a crack in their fortress, but as far as he could tell, there weren't any. The two of them were thicker than thieves. He had to work to impress both.

Next time he looked, the sun hung much lower in the sky than he had last remembered. He couldn't waste time thinking. It would take him too long, anyway. Strategizing was best left to Nancy and that other fellow, Sonny. Dylan had to find out what he could on his end, and until now it had been pretty straightforward. But he needed more information, and fast. Something was telling him that, and although Dylan didn't claim a sixth sense about these things, he knew better than to ignore the vibe. They all had to hurry.

Now that everybody had been working for most of the day, they'd be tired. Their defenses would be down. If ever there was a time to try and pry information out of them, it would be now.

Dylan stumbled down the closest pit and approached the digger in it, who wouldn't talk except in short, nervous Spanish replies. Maybe he really didn't understand English, but Dylan's presence made him nervous, as if he could sense where the conversation was headed. Dylan noted this and moved on.

The next few diggers wouldn't humor him, either. Some gave simple replies in Spanish while others said nothing at all. Slowly the air started to compress as the muscles around their mouths tensed.

On his way to the next pit he walked slowly, leisurely, dispelling any air of trouble that was clouding his mind. They thought he had nothing to hide. That's what they needed to think.

Before addressing the next digger, Dylan thought. He really needed to get better at being underhanded. It didn't help that he had a naturally open demeanor. Even if he wasn't going to continue with this… activity, it was a good skill to have.

But it would be so much easier if he did continue with it.

Wearily he dug his feet into the ground and placed his hands on his knees. Suddenly he couldn't wait to get out of here.

Then, summoning a smile, he straightened. This was a new pit, he noticed. It had to be, since it was shallow. "Hello."

No reply.

He should not have expected otherwise. Still he pushed on, undeterred. "Ever talk to those two chaps up there?" He gestured to the space where they normally stood, forgetting that they weren't there at the moment. "You know, when you're not working? They seem like affable fellows."

Still nothing.

Dylan swayed forward, lowering his voice. "So there's nothing else going on here?"

The digger flinched and hunched over further, putting more weight into his shovel.

Standing up straight, Dylan moved his gaze to the ground and sky. "You know, I find it lonely around here. I just want someone to talk to."

"We do not talk here, Señor."

His eyes darted over to him. It had been so long since anyone had talked and it had been spoken so quietly that Dylan almost thought he didn't hear. "What was that?" he asked.

"Hey!"

Dylan tensed.

The digger bowed his head, pulling the brim of his hat over the cheek facing José as he approached.

"What is this?" José asked.

"Just making conversation," Dylan replied, pushing away all traces of apprehension from his face.

"What were you discussing?" His eyes narrowed down to slits.

Dylan's mouth tightened. The digger continued with his shovel. The normal breeze of words in and across the pits had stopped.

Lying wouldn't benefit. Even Dylan recognized that. There wasn't even any need for José to ask, since he already knew.

Expertly José stepped into the pit, feet gripping the ground so that he didn't slide. He pushed forward until the brim of his hat slid up on Dylan's forehead. "We expect our workers to work, Señor Carter."

Dylan's eyebrows rose. "Do you?" In the past few days, Beltrán and José had given them the impression that he had a different job now that he was among the more... executive ranks.

For a few seconds José's eyes corroded his brain, moving through the back of his head until he felt him in the hairs on his neck. They stared at one another, snapped into place as if their skin was no longer malleable.

José turned to the digger and yelled at him in Spanish. As he was about to turn back to Dylan another voice barked at them, and Dylan hoped José hadn't seen him startle.

Beltrán stood at the top of the pit, beckoning to José. He leaned down and offered an arm. José took it, lifting himself out as they gripped each other's elbows. But before turning Beltrán looked at him askance, his usual smile gone.

Dylan gave them a minute's head start before leaving the pit himself. He wondered what exactly Jamila had gotten him into. Not that he was the type to run away from danger. He'd been telling the truth when he told her that danger didn't scare him. But this place gave him the heebie-jeebies.

Despite the circumstances, he couldn't suppress a wry grin. Jamila certainly must have had a special place for him in her heart to send him here.

And this was more difficult than he'd expected. Granted, he didn't have an Infiltrating the Black Market for Dummies book lying around, but enough charm and partial honesty had always seemed to work before. Frankly he was pleased that he only had to face suspicion on two fronts and not from his own team, as well, considering that Jamila surely had nothing good to say about him, but this was getting worse, not better. Things had to wrap up soon. Everybody else had their own areas of expertise. He couldn't be caught jabbering with them anyway. And if Nancy felt like getting pushy and giving him advice—which seemed to be her consideration based on the way she was looking at him—then too bad. Breaking the distance barrier he'd crossed upon tossing his lot in with them wouldn't get her anywhere.

He had to do this his own way.

From several pits away, Nancy's eyes narrowed. Dylan was being far too overt in his tactics. She'd have to keep that in mind, but for now she paid attention to Beltrán and José who were nearby. The wind blowing that day gave them a bit of relief from the heat, but it also made eavesdropping more difficult. She reverted to reading lips again.

"These are friends of ours," Beltrán said tightly. "When you lash out like that, it makes them think you have something to hide. We wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea, would we?"

José lowered his eyes and muttered an agreement.

Beltrán nodded. "Good. Let's not repeat it." He stepped off to his post.

Nancy turned back to the digging as José looked around. Although she was sure she had looked away in time, she felt watched. Twice she reconstructed the simple action, remembering that she had last seen the back of his head and a sliver of his cheek as he turned. He could not have seen her looking.

Yet somehow she was sure that José was the one watching her right now.


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