Xibalba (english version) - Stanley Struble - ebook

Xibalba (english version) ebook

Stanley Struble



Amidst the Zapatista guerilla army, drug trafficking, military and political corruption and the inhospitable Chiapas jungle, David Wolf, and expatriate American, and Karen Dumas, and archaeologist from the Smithsonian Institute leave behind their comfortable jobs in search of an unusual treasure: mysterious Mayan books.

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Title Xibalbá

Author: © Stanley Struble

© 2010 Ediciones Nowtilus S. L.

Doña Juana I de Castilla 44, 3o C, 28027 Madrid


Reservados todos los derechos. El contenido de esta obra está protegido por la Ley, que establece pena de prisión y/o multas,además de las correspondientes indemnizaciones por daños y perjuicios, para quienes reprodujeren, plagiaren, distribuyeren o comunicaren públicamente, en todo o en parte, una obra literaria, artística o científica, o su transformación, interpretación o ejecución artística fijada en cualquier tipo de soporte o comunicada a través de cualquier medio, sin la preceptiva autorización.

ISBN 13: 978-84-9967-344-8

Printed in USA

This book is dedicated to the indigenous Maya of Chiapas, Mexico and their representatives, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN.

Special acknowledgment

My sincere gratitude is extended to Jim Bunstock and Valerie Struble who read and edited the manuscript several times. Your patience and goodwill are treasures.

Very special acknowledgement

Without the patience and friendship of Jose Antonio Gonzalez Corso of Guadalajara and Claudia Poel and Raul Sanchez of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico this book would never have be translated into Spanish. The significance of their contribution and the depth of my gratitude can’t be expressed.


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32



Heart-rending cries and desolate moans–sounds of the hopeless and forsaken–fell on callus, uncaring ears. Muted by the forest, the voices couldn’t compete with chattering birds, whistling parrots and a horde of shrieking, rancorous monkeys that rattled the limbs of the jungle canopy.

“He won’t talk,” said the helmeted, mustachioed Spanish soldier, standing in the shade of the encroaching jungle. Bone-deep fatigue hung on him like wet clothes. Dirt traced the wrinkles on his face and beads of sweat left clear trails down his grimy cheeks.

“Did you try the boiling oil, captain?” asked Bishop Landa, standing in the late afternoon shadow of a faltering Yucatan sun.

“Yes, Eminence. We vexed him greatly. Did you not hear him call out to his wives?”


“Wives, Eminence. The filthy pagan had three, but one died on the return from the dead jungle city.”

Oblivious to the shrieks of those being tortured, the bishop reached for a sandalwood rosary that hung from his belt. A gift from his Franciscan abbot in Grenada, it had been made in the Holy Land in the 12th century and brought to Spain by returning Crusaders. Bishop Landa grasped the cross and stroked it lightly with his thumb while ruminating on the problem of Red Snail.

The bishop remembered Red Snail from ten years ago. They had argued many times, and Red Snail had been one of few who dared speak against Landa, who was then only a young Franciscan priest. The old Mayan had had in his possession folding, accordion-shaped books made from the fiber of the maguey cactus. Landa saw them as the work of the devil and the main impediment to proselytizing the Indians. He had already destroyed many of the books ten years earlier before being chastised and returned to Spain in disgrace by the old bishop. But in Spain Fr. Landa’s New World activities had found approval. In fact, when his nemesis, the previous bishop, had died, Fr. Landa had been appointed the new Bishop of the Yucatan. Vindicated by his superiors, he had returned in triumph, eager to resume his quest. With a fervor born of the Inquisition, he believed that his was God’s work, and that any writings inspired by the Dark Angel must be destroyed.

When Red Snail learned that Landa had come ashore in Veracruz, the old priest had fled Chichen Itza in the Yucatan with the last remaining books. Red Snail had taken along his family and followers, many of them from this town of Mani, into the uncharted Lacandon Jungle. But Landa knew that he was God’s Hand on Earth and the bishop was not to be thwarted so easily, and so he mustered a small army and sent them in search of the fleeing Indians. The southern jungles and mountains were unmapped and nearly impenetrable. An army of fifty Conquistadors had chased Red Snail and his flock for nearly three months. Pursuing with a righteous vengeance, the soldiers had tracked the fugitives south through coastal Tabasco, then southwest, deep into the Lacandon jungle, very near to the ruins of an old Mayan city. When the soldiers arrived, the treacherous priest had already disposed of the books. Where the trove of literature had been hidden, the captain had been unable to ascertain. Beatings and torture had loosened no tongues. But rather than fail utterly, the captain had returned the Indians to the Yucatan and its fanatical bishop.

“Tell me, Captain... what was Jade Snail doing when you caught up to him?”

“Looked like some sort of ceremony, padre.” The Conquistador frowned, then sighed, tired of this day’s work and anxious to be done. The bishop ignored his indiscretion and listened patiently as the soldier explained again.

“Someone had carved one of those stinkin’ stones that no one can read. You know...like those near the pyramid town where Red Snail lived. They were settin’ it up in front of a cave.”

“What did you do with it?”

“The stone? Had to throw it away, Eminence. We carried it two days, but it was too heavy, and the men complained greatly.

“You transported it two days?”

“Yes, Bishop Landa, much to the disgust of...”

“Is the young wife pretty?” interrupted Landa.

“Pretty?” The captain’s face went blank. “She’s an Indian, padre. All Indians are ugly.”

“Kill the old one, then put the pretty one to the fire,” said the bishop. “Slowly, mind you, and take care that she doesn’t die too soon. Red Snail must be able to see her and hear her cries.”

“What if she dies early, Eminence. Some of ‘em die for no reason. They just...” the captain hesitated, scowling, “...they just die. They give up.”

“Then kill Red Snail,” replied the bishop. “He’s not going to tell us anything. He hid the books. The record was on the stone and you threw it away. The books will never survive that steaming hell in the south, anyway.”

The captain departed and the bishop turned to a trio of coarse-robed Franciscan Friars who had witnessed the conversation.

“Well...” Landa shrugged, “there’s nothing more here. It’s unlikely the old heathen will tell us anything. He’ll roast in hell before talking. We might as well return to Merida.”

“Yes,” agreed a gray-eyed, longhaired friar, rising from his chair. He stood and faced the bishop. The friar’s wide smile revealed gaps and yellow, crooked teeth. “It’s unfortunate that the methods of Torquemada are now in disrepute, Eminence. We could have made quick work of it. But the Holy Father knows best...be assured of that.” The friar bowed and stood aside to allow the bishop to pass.”

“Yes… of course,” smiled Bishop Landa. “Let’s finish here and go quickly to Merida. It will soon be dinner time, and the smell of burning flesh is bad for the appetite.”


Karen Dumas, archaeologist, tossed a manila folder onto her desk, then slumped into the chair of her Smithsonian office. Placing her elbows on the desk and resting her head in her hands, a sigh escaped her lips. Lord, she needed rest. About two weeks worth, she figured. This project had quickly turned into an obsession, and now her exhausted brain was in full revolt. If she quit moving, even for a few minutes, an overwhelming urge to close her eyes besieged her. But not yet. She must still meet with Dr. Depp, her supervisor, before taking a taxi to American University. Thank God for coffee.

She glanced at the folder. Inside lay her opus, maybe her future; a translation of the Gould Stelae covered with Mayan script. Stelae were tall, flat stones that had been erected throughout the cities of meso-America over one thousand years ago to commemorate important historical events; wars, ceremonies, marriages, conquest, and alliances. The Gould Stelae, like many others, had been plundered and removed from its original site. Where this was, she didn’t know. The previously unknown artifact had come to the Smithsonian as part of the Roy Gould estate year earlier. It was chipped, broken, and had critical parts missing. Dr. Depp (Dr. Death to the Assistant Curators) believed the collection to be of no value and had assigned the job of researching and classifying the mismatched odds and ends to her.

After months of study, including weekends and many sleepless nights, Karen, a student of Maya writing, had struck gold. The stelae’s previously undeciphered message made reference to Maya books hidden somewhere in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas State in southern Mexico. If true and if the books could be found, her discovery was of incalculable importance. Only a handful of the pictographic books had survived the zealous fury and hot fires of the Conquest. The Spanish friars had relentlessly destroyed any reference to native religions. Unfortunately for the Indians, this had included all forms of writing, and since the Catholic friars couldn’t read any of the pictographic glyphs, everything had been consigned to the fires. Only a few of the folding, Maguey-fiber books had survived.

Her discovery was of such importance that it ranked a presentation at American University today. Quite a coup for a young assistant curator with no credentials. But first, before her moment of glory, she had to meet with Depp. His secretary had called and insisted. What did the pompous bastard want now? She sighed, unable to find the energy to go and meet with one of her least favorite people. Her shoulders sagged and she closed her eyes momentarily. Might as well get it over with. She grasped the folder that contained the stelae data, photographs and her translation and exited her office, pausing only to lock the door.

She never left the translation unattended now after an incident one week ago when she believed that her office had been burglarized. Well… maybe not burglarized. Nothing was missing as far as she could tell, but her stelae data had been removed from the folder and lay scattered about when she returned from lunch. She cradled the folder against her chest and unconsciously patted it as she turned to walk down the hall.

“Oh… here you are,” said an unfamiliar voice.

Surprised, she turned to see who addressed her.

“I’ve been looking for you.” A tall, fiftyish, deeply tanned man with dark hair smiled at her. “When I saw that you had been dropped from today’s agenda, I thought I’d look for you here. Name’s David Wolf.” He extended a hand. “I’m an archaeologist from the National University in Mexico City.”

“What? Who?” Her mouth hung slack. Tired, mind working slowly, she stared at his proffered hand. “Dropped from what agenda? What are you talking about, Mr. Wolf?”

“Call me David...please,” he answered. “I see your talk on the Gould Stelae was canceled,” he held out a pamphlet. “I wondered why. You see, I knew Roy Gould from the old days. We... er...had some dealings twenty or thirty years ago and I was curious about some things. I remember seeing some of his...”

“What do you mean I’m not on it?” she interrupted. “Let me see that!”

“Uh... sure.” He handed her the conference agenda. “Actually, one of the reasons I came all this way was to talk to you about Roy.”

“Damn... must be a mistake,” she muttered, ignoring him, searching the list for her name. Karen gripped the pamphlet tightly, her mouth a tight, thin line.

“A mistake?” He seemed perplexed by her answer.

“Are you sure this is today’s?”

“Got it this morning and decided to come right over. Roy had a couple of things he picked up from some people– grave robbers really–that he wouldn’t part with. I think one of them was your stelae. I argued with him...wanted to do a little work on it myself, but he shipped it to the states with a bunch of other stuff. I used to hear of him buying things... you know... but then I guess he died and no one in his family wanted…”. The archaeologist‘s voice trailed off when he realized she wasn’t listening.

Karen stood mute, her eyes wide, staring at the paper. Another name had replaced her’s: Dr. Jonathan Depp, Master Curator, Smithsonian Institute.

“Is everything okay, Miss... er... Dr. Dumas?” David seemed to realize that he had stumbled into an awkward situation. “Like I said...I tried to call first but you weren’t...”

“Yes... I mean no...” she hesitated. “I didn’t know that I had been removed from the list. Can’t imagine why... must be an oversight. I must call immediately...and...and I have an appointment right now.” Her face turned pale and she slumped against her door.

“Miss Dumas!” cried the archaeologist. “Are you ill?”

She shook her head. “Just tired.” She looked at the agenda once more to verify her name’s absence. This was not an accident, and the reason had been inserted in her time slot–Dr. Jonathan Depp. This is what Dr. Death wanted to talk with her about. The bastard! The sneaky, calculating jerk had done this to embarrass her, she decided.

“Miss Dumas,” said the Mexican archaeologist, “I’m sorry if this is a bad time. I wrote you two months ago, remember?”

Karen looked at him, puzzled. “Oh...yes...yes. I believe I do remember. I’d forgotten. Please excuse me...I wasn’t expecting...”

“If this is a bad time, perhaps later?”

“Yes... please... if you don’t mind.” She looked at her watch. “I have an appointment.” She breathed deeply to gain her composure. “I don’t think it will take too long. Say fifteen minutes?”

“Of course. Is there anything I can do? You seem distressed.”

“No.” Her face turned hard. “No... but thanks anyway. I should have done this a long time ago.”

“Is there somewhere I can get a cup of coffee?”

“Downstairs,” she pointed, “to the left.”

The archaeologist took his leave and Karen turned to walk to Depp’s office. Disappointment magnified her fatigue as she contemplated her dilemma. Why? Why would Depp do such a thing without first consulting her? Was it just a mistake? Professional jealousy? Spite? An attempt to put her in her place? Who could ever understand why a man did anything? It just didn’t make sense. But what the heck? She would just go and get it over with. There was no excuse for what he had done, but she would listen–just for a minute– then she would give him a piece of her mind.


Gray-haired Mrs. Dinty, Dr. Death’s secretary, frowned upon seeing Karen enter the office. A long-time employee of the Smithsonian, the priggish Mrs. Dinty had witnessed numerous directors come and go over the decades. When Karen approached the secretary’s desk, the old woman’s face colored and her head dipped momentarily, as if embarrassed. She must already know what Depp had done! Without a word, Karen bypassed her and headed for her supervisor’s office.

“Please… Miss Dumas,” the secretary stood and held up an arm, “I must inform Dr. Depp that you are...”

Sleeplessness and anger overcame Karen’s good sense. She ignored the flustered secretary and opened her boss’ door without knocking. “Miss Dumas, please... Miss Dumas...” called Mrs. Dinty.

Karen shut the door on the old woman’s protests and turned to confront the enemy. Dr. Jonathan Depp, a small man, sat unmoving in a large over-stuffed leather chair. He stared blandly, his thin face unreadable. In his late fifties, nearly bald except for dark bushy eyebrows and a toilet-seat pattern of hair on his head, he appeared calm but alert. He studied her, as though seeing her for the first time. Suddenly she didn’t feel so confident. Until now she had never realized how unattractive and reptilian he seemed. His small, soft hands twirled a pen. Why was he looking at her like that? She glanced away, unnerved, unable to meet his eyes.

“They don’t teach social skills where you come from?” he asked.

The sarcasm fanned the embers of her anger. Grasping her file folder with one hand, she waved the conference agenda at him with her other. “Dr. Depp, I just learned that I’ve been taken off...”

“Just a moment,” he interrupted and reached for his phone. He pressed four numbers, then waited. He stared at her again.

Flustered, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and began again. “Dr. Depp can you tell me why I’ve been removed from the agenda at today’s meeting?”

Depp held up his hand, then spoke into the phone. “Bill? Yeah, go ahead. Tell me how it goes, okay?”

“Miss Dumas,” he said, hanging up the phone and leaning back into his chair. “Have a seat.” He pointed with the pen.

“I prefer to stand.”

“Suit yourself.” He shrugged. “I’ve been wanting to talk with you. I’ve left memos in your mailbox, left phone messages, and Mrs. Dinty put a note on your office door last Friday.”

“I’ve... er, been busy, and I’ve been working at home a lot lately.”

“I see.” The pen began to tap the desk. “Tell me...did you notify Mrs. Dinty or anyone else that you were working at home?”

“Dr. Depp, I’ve been working night and day on the Gould Stelae,” she protested. “Like I told you last month, I think I might have deciphered...”

“Yes...that’s the problem isn’t it? The Gould Stelae. Let’s talk about the stelae, Miss Dumas.” Dr. Depp leaned forward. “Why have you not shared the results of your research with me? Why are you avoiding me? Why, Miss Dumas, are you behaving like a prima donna who doesn’t have a supervisor, like someone who doesn’t have to come to work like the rest of us?”

She swallowed a lump in her throat. “I didn’t know that you were interested.”

His tiny fist slammed the desktop. “I’m your boss! Of course I’m interested! It’s my responsibility to supervise your research and measure your progress. You must share your results with me. You’re an employee of the Smithsonian, remember?”

“Yes, but…”

“No but’s. Quit interrupting.”

“But I think that someone entered my office and went through my data.”

“Preposterous!” Depp waved off her complaint. “Look, Karen, you share with me and the Smithsonian, or you’re out on your fanny. Got it?”

“Yes... of course... and I will... I mean...” Karen began to dissemble. Her anger fled and her face felt flushed. “But why did you cancel my presentation today? I have valuable data...I’ve made a remarkable discovery... I...”

“You have nothing, Mrs. Dumas; certainly nothing worth wasting the time of the most premier researchers in the country. I’ve seen your notes. Your work is worthless.”

“What? When did you see...”

“I have my ways. I know what you’re doing, and I’m sure it will lead to nothing. Effective immediately, organize your data and notes and deliver them to my office. I’m taking you off the Gould Stelae.”

“No,” she choked, gripping the folder. The agenda shook in her hand. Good Lord! she thought. The information he intended to steal was in the folder she held at this moment!

“What do you mean ‘no,’ Miss Dumas? You’re an intelligent woman. Must I remind you that you have no say in the matter? I can assign you any task I wish…and you’re done with the Gould project!”

Karen stood speechless. Her eyes felt hot, as if she might burst into tears of exhausted frustration. How had this happened? Why? What had she done to deserve this kind of treatment? She had put all her energy, dedicated her life to the Gould bequest. This project could make her career, and this bald-headed creep was taking it from her. Anger rose within, only this time hard and cold as ice. She wanted to scratch-out his eyes.

“No,” she said again, firmer this time. “I can’t...won’t, I mean... I…”

“You don’t have any choice. Get it done, today.” He looked at his wristwatch and smiled. “I have to run over to Ame rican University and bail out the Smithsonian’s reputation.”

“You had no right to cancel my presentation without permission. You have no real reason to take me off the Gould Stelae. I’d be happy to show you my results. I can...”

“Too late, Miss Dumas. And I took you off the agen da because no one,” he pointed the pen at himself, “has had a chance to referee your work. Any presentation of data out of this department must go through a peer review process. It’s the same at any university, any academic environment, Miss Dumas. You know that.” He glanced at his watch again, then frowned. “I must be off. Be sure and have the Gould materials on my desk by late afternoon. You may go.” He pointed the pen at the door.

“Please... I wish you would give me another chance, Dr. Depp. The Gould Stelae means a lot to me. I may have made a fantastic...”

“You have made a mess, Miss Dumas. The answer is no, and our conversation is ended.” He ignored her and bent to retrieve materials from a bottom desk drawer.

She could barely move. Her jaw clenched. Had she screwed up? Did he have a grievance? No. He’d done a hatchet job on her. Resentment seethed and held her resolve firm. She would have to force herself to leave. Finally, unable to control herself, she said, “Dr. Depp?”

“Yes, what is it?” He looked up from his desk drawer and frowned, annoyed.

“This is for you, asshole.” She raised her hand and shot him the finger. It felt good, and she finally smiled. Nothing like getting the last word. His mouth gaped with surprise, and she turned and strode from his office, passing a nervous Mrs. Dinty who sat clenching a handkerchief. Karen wadded the agenda and tossed it onto the secretary’s desk.

“Mrs. Dinty,” Karen said pleasantly, “please give my copy of the agenda to Dr. Death.”

Karen navigated the endless, bland white corridors of the Smithsonian to her office. The hallway’s fluorescent lights seemed eerie and surreal, and she felt lightheaded. She realized that she had been hyperventilating, and so she made an effort to control her breathing. What a jerk! What an asshole! How dare he talk to her like that! And take her off the Gould Stelae? Not a chance. She wouldn’t do it. She wouldn’t comply. She wouldn’t, she wouldn’t...

“Hello, again.”

The professor from Mexico stood outside her door. She glared at him. Not now. She really didn’t have time for this.

“Get it all straightened out?” he smiled pleasantly. “Took a while to find the snack shop. Big place, the Smithsonian,” he offered.

“Mister... er...”

“Wolf. David Wolf. Please call me David.”

“Mr. Wolf… I really can’t talk right now. I’ve just had a...well I guess you could say I’ve just made a mess for myself.” Karen visualized herself standing in Depp’s office shooting him the finger. How could she have been so stupid? Now he would probably fire her. “Can we talk later? I need time to sort some things out.”

“You look a little flushed. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine... I guess.” She pushed recalcitrant locks of hair behind her ear again, then mustered a wan smile.

“I’ve come a long way, Miss Dumas,” he reminded her. “I must return to American University by noon. There are several presentations I want to hear.” He smiled again. “You look as if you could use a cup of coffee, too. Want to join me downstairs so that we don’t bother your colleague?”

“Huh... what colleague?”

“Oh... I saw a shadow through the window of your door. I assumed that you shared with someone.”

Karen whirled to face the office door. She had locked it before going to Depp’s office! Who else had a key? She tried the doorknob, and it turned. A large shadow loomed within, then disappeared as she pushed the door wide. “Who’s here?” she called out.

“What’s going on, Miss Dumas?” asked the professor.

She stepped inside. A window stood open and her desk had been rifled. The outline for her presentation was missing. Some of her data on the Gould stelae was strewn about the desk, chair and floor. Burglarized again! It had been planned. She knew it. But who? Depp? He said her research was worthless. Why would he break in if he thought her data meaningless? Besides, she had just left him in his office. He wouldn’t have someone else do it, would he?

“Damn! Damn! Damn!” she stamped her foot, surveying the damage. David joined her inside and together they peered out the window, but saw no one or anything suspicious.

“Gee... archaeology isn’t near this exciting in Mexico,” he joked. “Shouldn’t you call a security guard?”

“Yeah... sure... I guess.” She looked at the mess of papers, then placed her folder securely under her arm and began to clean up the mess. Thank God she’d carried her translation with her! What a perfectly horrible day. She ignored the Mexican professor and took stock of her situation. What were her options? She had just terminated her employment with the Smithsonian by shooting Depp the finger. They would never be able to work together again. Now that she thought about it, she didn’t really care if she stayed at the museum or not. Problem was, though, that he might prevent her from finding a job elsewhere. Damn! She sagged with disappointment. What next? What now? Someone touched her shoulder, and she turned to face the Mexican.

“How about that coffee, Miss Dumas? You can tell me all about it.”

Karen hesitated, looked at the gaping window, and then at the professor. She remembered that he claimed to have known Roy Gould and, though she had forgotten, that she had invited the Mexican archaeologist to talk with her when he attended the conference.

“Sure... why not,” she replied. She paused, and then said, “I’m probably not going to be an employee of the Smithsonian after today. I... ah... had some words with my boss because he wants to take me off the Gould Stelae.”

“No! Really?”

“Yes, and even if he doesn’t, I’ll probably quit.”

The professor hesitated, as if measuring his words. “Roy was a grave robber, you know?” he offered enticingly.

“Do you know where he found the stelae?” His bait had fueled her obsession.

“Maybe the general area. Roy was a bit of a scoundrel in the old days before he made a few legitimate dollars and got respectable.”

“I’ll see you down stairs,” she pointed vaguely toward the door, “I’m buying. I’ll join you as soon as I report this to security. I want to hear all about Roy Gould.”


David Wolf sat alone at a table in the middle of the Smithsonian cafeteria. Tourists and staffers on their morning coffee break thronged the facility. White walls and a ceiling of fluorescent lights provided a familiar setting to anyone having spent time in a museum. Vacationers were easy to identify, as they consisted of noisy families or the occasional individual reading Smithsonian literature. The staff sat in small groups, talking and joking. David idly twirled a coffee stirrer and pretended to ignore the twitters and darting glances of a collection of colleagues and well-wishers that had surrounded Karen. What had she said or done to earn all the attention? He studied her from afar and saw that she was lovely woman; tall, athletic and shapely enough for any man to appreciate. She pushed strands of shoulder length brown hair back from her face and flashed a smile to her well-wishers.

David stared into his coffee and frowned, annoyed that Karen had not remembered his letter regarding Roy Gould. Very unprofessional. He sighed and shifted his legs beneath the table. The few presentations he had attended at the conference had been lackluster and unappealing, and thus far his meeting with Karen had bordered on bizarre. He took a sip of bland cafeteria coffee and slipped into a daydream, imagining himself sitting on a shaded colonial verandah in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, talking with his wife, ignoring his unpleasant brother-in-law, while awaiting the arrival of old friends, Luis and Alicia Alvarado. The professor was eager to return to Mexico and resume his vacation.

His first three days in Washington D.C. had reaffirmed why he had deserted this material-rich country for the easy, slower pace of Mexico. Simply stated, the rush-rush, hubbub and racial strife drove him crazy. A fifty-two-year-old American expatriate, he rarely returned to the states except for professional reasons. He held a full professorship in the Department of Anthropology at Mexico City’s National University and had spent nearly thirty years in combined research and teaching. Archaeology was his passion, and his wife of two years, Alexandra, joked that she would have him fossilized if he died before her. Theirs was a mixed marriage, so to speak, between a widow of five years and a widower of twenty. His new bride came from a pedigreed, well-connected political family. Whereas some might see him as a lowly academic and a gringo, he had lived in Mexico many years and thought of himself as Mexican.

David glanced again at Karen. He found this whole business unsettling. The woman appeared moody and distracted and quite possibly incompetent–though certainly good looking. Had she been hired for her beautiful face? The situation with her boss and the burglarized office were out of context for a museum. He felt tempted to leave and catch the few remaining conference presentations before flying home, but the unresolved issue of Roy Gould and the peculiar events of the last hour tugged at his curiosity. He might as well stay and hear her story. He looked at his watch and decided there was no hurry.

Karen disengaged from the crowd and sat at the table, placing a manila folder in her lap. “Sorry,” she said. “The rumors around this place are incredible.” She nervously moved strands of brown hair behind an ear, then reached and tore open a package of artificial creamer. Her hand shook as she poured. She stirred, then sipped her coffee, holding the cup with both hands. She looked to see if anyone watched, then smiled and leaned toward him like a conspirator.

“So...” she began. “You knew Roy in the old days. Tell me...was he really a grave robber?”

“Perhaps,” David returned her smile. “Roy didn’t have any professional training, and never seemed to have a real job. Thirty years ago he hung around the Yucatan a lot. He was always hustling a buck, and had a knack for acquiring and marketing unusual pieces. While I don’t know of any specific incident of grave robbing, his dealings always seemed shady to me. Pre-Colombian art is worth more when sold with documentation. A piece that comes with a written history is worth ten times that of an item without it, but Roy never bothered with paper. It led me to believe he was involved in something illegal.”

She chewed her bottom lip and nodded. “Yeah…lack of documentation. I’m almost positive the Gould Stelae comes from farther south in Mexico...Chiapas or Tobasco...maybe even Guatemala.” She set the cup down and leaned back into her chair. “Part of the stelae inscription mentions a journey through Palenque.”

“When I last saw Roy, he had your stelae.”

“Really!” she leaned forward, both hands on the table. “When was this?”

“About `65. Ran into him on the Usumacinta River near Yaxchilan ruin. Said he had picked up some stuff near Palenque and was on his way to Bonampak.” He watched her eyes unfocus as she slid deep into thought.

“The stelae, Miss Dumas… what time-period are we talking about here?” he interrupted.

“1500’s” she said, refocusing. “Probably about 1570 or so.”

“What?” The professor’s eyes grew wide. He frowned, disbelieving. “That’s hardly a compatible date, Miss Dumas. I...er...surely you’re aware that the Mayan culture died out before the Conquest. With the exception of the Yucatan, all the southern Mayan cities had been abandoned four hundred years before Columbus. I’ve done considerable work at Palenque and it was abandoned even earlier. No...” David shook his head, “couldn’t be. Doesn’t make any sense.”

“Believe it,” she insisted, reaching for a paper napkin. “Here...look.” She took a pencil and drew two glyphs, then added a series of bars and dots. “I’m not much of an artist, but does this mean anything to you?”

“Let’s see,” the professor turned the napkin around and studied the drawings. “It’s a date…obviously.” He frowned in concentration. “Probably the month and day.”

The Maya year was calculated through the Tzolkin calendar, using eighteen times the twenty-day Haab, their equivalent of a month, which comprised three-hundred-sixty days plus five unlucky days at the end of the year. There were twenty name days, and thirteen numbers associated with them. Each day was linked to a number. Since there were more days than numbers, the fourteenth day had to use the number one again. Thus, two-hundred-sixty days had to pass before the original number came around again. In some aspects, their calendar was more similar to astrology than science. The Maya believed that extraneous factors influenced the characteristics of each day; things such as the day number, the Haab character, and a quadrant sign characterized by four gods called Kawils, each one associated with a color and responsible for a quadrant of eight hundred and nineteen days. Years were gathered into katuns, or twenty-year cycles, baktuns were grouped at twenty times twenty for four hundred year cycles. They had much larger units, too, such as the calabtun, a one-hundred-and-sixty-thousand year cycle.

“Looks like this one could be Yaxkin and this one Cib,” he mumbled, then began to scribble on the napkin. “That means Tender Sun, then Vulture,” he smiled, happy with himself. “Then you have to figure that each Tun was…uh… so that translates to about…” He continued to scribble, then paused and frowned, peering intently at the bars and dots. “1573? But how? Does it say that on the stelae?”

She nodded, smiling. “It does...and it also says that the stelae was erected near Palenque.”

“Impossible... couldn’t be. Palenque was all but buried in the jungle when discovered.”

“Unless it wasn’t.”

“What wasn’t?”

“Wasn’t buried at Palenque. Maybe the stelae was erected within Palenque’s dominion, but not actually associated with the Jaguar dynasties of Palenque. In other words, erected four hundred years later.”

The professor shook his head, confused. “Miss Dumas... there are Mayan sites with inscribed calendar counts that predate the Big Bang!”

She ignored his skepticism. “Are there caves in the area?” she asked.

“Caves? Oh… sure. Probably hundreds. Cenotes, too. You ought to see how big and deep some of those things are. There’s also an immense tropical jungle covering the mountains. Lots of rivers and waterfalls in the rainy season, too. No roads, either. What does that have to do with anything?”

“Are you familiar with the four remaining Codexes?”

“Never actually seen them, but I know of them. They’re all that’s left of the Mayan books. Spaniards destroyed the rest. They are named after the places they are exhibited in Europe; Dresden, Paris and Madrid. The Grolier Codex was the last discovered… 1971 I believe, even though it’s the oldest… written in the twelfth century. Everyone knows that. What about it?”

“There’s more.”

“More Maya books?” He looked doubtful. “Where?”

“I think near Palenque. Probably hidden in a cave.”

“Does the stelae say that?”

“I think so.”

“You think?”

“I’d bet a year’s pay on it.”

The professor sat rigid, but his mouth hung slack. Historians and archaeologists believed that Spanish friars had destroyed every written document of the Maya except for the four codexes. Friar Diego de Landa, a franciscan who later became Bishop of the Yucatan, had terrorized the Indians by torturing them for their reluctance to embrace Christianity. Thousands had been put to the sword. In the 1560’s he had held a full-blown auto-da-fe, burning every written text of the Maya he could find. Although many people had searched since, not a single remnant of the Maguey fiber books had ever been found. This young woman was either immersed in fantasy or onto the biggest archaeological story of the last one hundred years. How could it be?

“Does the stone...”

“The stelae was placed somewhere near Palenque in 1573,” she interrupted. “The inscription says it was erected by Red Snail, a priest from the Yucatan.”

“A priest?”

“Think about it,” she said, stretching her arms wide and yawning.

Karen crossed her legs nervously and reached for her cup. “What were the Spanish doing at the time? Remember?” she prompted him.

He shrugged, “Pacifying and proselytizing the Indians.”

“Destroying their religion and culture, you mean.”

“Yes…yes,” he agreed. “It’s well documented. There were incredible excesses.”

“What if one group of people held out and fled south into the Lacandon jungle?”

“With the books?”


The professor extended a shaking hand toward his coffee cup. “How do you know? Does the stelae say that? It’s a fantastic story.”

Karen leaned forward, looked about for conversation voyeurs, then said, “I think the inscription records the flight of Red Snail and his clan from Chichen Itza–that they carried with them the last of the temple books. If you were a Mayan Indian caught near Palenque, and it was already a ruin, where would you hide something precious?”

“A cave,” he smiled grimly, nodding agreement. It was a logical assumption. Caves were holy places to the Maya. Their spiritual ancestors came from Xibalba, the underworld. Even today, throughout the Maya homeland, Indians continue to enact rituals in caves. Still, this was an incredible story.

“You have proof?”

“I have the translation.”

“Can I see the stelae?”

Karen shrugged. “Probably not now.”

“Why not?”

“I’d be surprised if I’m still an employee here any more. Depp and I just had it out. He’s not going to let me anywhere near it.”

“What did you...” the professor started to ask, but shut up. He watched as she looked at her feet.

“I... I do have photographs... and I traced the glyphs with paper and pencil.” She removed her materials from the folder.

David wiped his suddenly sweaty palms on his trousers. “So… the stelae isn’t intact?” he asked, lifting the top photograph by its edges.

She hesitated, then said, “No… but here… look at a couple of these.” She handed him three black and white glossy photos.

He shuffled between them quickly, searching for recognition. “It’s hard to read… the light…”

“I know, but I have the tracings.” She reached and took them from his hand.

“Hey,” he protested, “I didn’t get a look.”

“Not now… maybe some other time.”

David stared at her, surprised. Why, that was almost rude, he thought. Did she have something to conceal? Why wouldn’t she allow him to inspect the photos?

“Miss Dumas, are you absolutely sure what the stelae says? Have you allowed others to check your work...look at the glyphs themselves and do their own translation?”

“No... there... er... wasn’t time. I checked in with Depp sometimes, but he didn’t seem to care what I was doing. Not until today, anyway.”

“Can I see what you have?” he coaxed. David doubted her fantastic story had any basis in fact, but he had to see for himself. Lord! Discovering Maya books would be an incredible accomplishment.

“No,” she said suddenly, snatched her folder, and stood to leave. Her mouth was set in a thin line. “Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t need another male mentor to...to...” She floundered for words and turned to leave.

To burst your bubble, he thought. Then with a flash of insight, he said, “You’re afraid I’ll steal your work.”

She spun about, surprised. Her face colored. “I didn’t mean...what I meant was that...”

He held up a hand to caution her. “Please...I understand,” he sighed and extended a hand toward her chair. “Sit down, Miss Dumas. Are you always so rash?”

“Rash? Me?” her mouth opened, but no words came.

“Miss Dumas, I have no intention of stealing someone else’s work. I don’t even know if your research is of any value. Apparently no one does. And no one will believe you unless and until your translation is verified. Regardless, you’re going to need help. I can only assume that you’re planning a trip to Mexico?”

Her brows lifted with surprise. “Yes,” she answered, avoiding his eyes. “Soon. I’m leaving my office today.” She looked over her shoulder. “I need to hurry, before more of my work disappears.”

“Ahh...” he said, remembering the incident in her office. “You really think someone wants your data?”

“Positive. You don’t know...you haven’t been around. This isn’t the first time something’s happened. What else could it be?”

He stared at her pretty face, but caught himself and looked away. Was this all fluff and fancy, or did the woman really have something? What should he do? All this way for a crazy story from an unknown archaeologist of dubious academic credentials. But if she was right…why would someone break into her office? Discovering Maya books would be the equivalent of finding the Rosetta stone! That stone fragment, found in the Egyptian desert with the same inscription in three different languages, had resulted in the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

“I’m leaving tomorrow for San Cristobal de Las Casas,” said David.

“Chiapas?” she looked hopeful.

“There’s a war going on, you know,” he warned.

“Oh, yes... I read about that. The Zapatista rebellion.” Her shoulders sagged. She obviously had forgotten this important bit of information.

“It’s dangerous, Miss Dumas. Dangerous for anyone...a woman especially.”

“I can take care of myself,” she retorted, her back stiff.

“I’m sure you can,” he replied. “But you still need help. You’ll never find squat without it.”

This got her attention and her eyes locked on his. “Why should I trust you?”

“Why should I trust you?” he countered.

The corners of her mouth fought a smile. She hesitated, then said, “I wouldn’t mind a little help.” She looked at her feet again. “It’s really important to me that I do...”

“Miss Dumas...” he interrupted.

“Karen,” she corrected him.

“Karen, you don’t have a prayer without help. I have connections in Chiapas.”

“What kind of connections?”

“My wife’s brother is the Consul of Chiapas State.”

She laughed. “You’re kidding!”

He chuckled, “Yeah...and I know a few other people, too. Karen if you want to do this right, I can help. I’ll be in San Cristobal for a month. If you make it down, give me a call. This will be my address and phone number while I’m there.” He wrote it out and handed it to her. “Karen,” he hesitated, choosing his words carefully, “I really must check your data...and frankly, unless I do, I’m probably not interested in working with you.” He shrugged. “You have to decide.” He stood also. “I worked in and around the Palenque area for ten years. If your translation is any good, I’ll know. Give it some thought, then give me a call. I don’t think you’ll find anyone better to work with.” He smiled. “I really must be going. I think I can still catch a couple of the afternoon sessions. Maybe I’ll even see your Dr. Depp.”

“Yeah. You do that. While you’re at it, see if he has my lecture outline, will you?”

“Surely you don’t think...”

She waved off his question. “No...yeah...who knows. Someone took it.” She looked around the room, then back to the professor. “Look... David, I’ll be out of this place in a week. I…I’m coming to Mexico. Maybe I’ll look you up when I get there.”

“Hope so. By the way, I wouldn’t take a small plane if I were you. Fly into Acapulco or somewhere reasonably close, then take a bus.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Zapatista guerrillas. Remember? There’s a war on.”

“Oh... yeah. I forgot.”



“I can pick you up at the airport in Acapulco if you wish. Think about it, okay?” David extended a hand, and she shook it. He left her standing, deep in thought and chewing on her lip. Walking from the room, he navigated several hallways and eventually found his way out of the building.

I wonder if she’ll call? he mused, descending long rows of granite steps that fronted the Natural History Museum. Crazy story, really. Maya books, unknown stelae, burglars, a good-looking young woman, and jealous academics. What the hell was going on here, anyway? Maybe it would be better if she didn’t call. At fifty-two his life was interesting enough without having to traipse all over the Lacandon jungle. Alexandra, his wife, would be angry if he decided to work on vacation, especially with a young, pretty woman. And his friend, Luis Alvarado, would arrive in San Cristobal within the week. David really didn’t have time for this. It sounded like nonsense anyway. Aw, well... He put his hands in his pockets and began walking the path alongside the Tidal Pool. Soon he was whistling a song from his youth. To hell with the conference, he decided. Maybe he would climb the Washington Monument one last time before he was too old.


The subway ride home allowed Karen to ruminate and put her situation into perspective. She was juggling a lot of issues and it was time to sort them out. Carrying a briefcase that contained her stelae data, photos, translation and a few personal items from her office, she finally reached the last step of the subway and started walking the seven blocks to her apartment. The familiar sounds and smells of Washington D.C. greeted her. Stately, broad-limbed trees lined both sides of the street. A few ragged survivors of the devastating Dutch Elm disease of the 50’s cast a dappled shade across street and lawns amid the newer, healthier sweet gum and Maple.

Even though she was very fatigued and certain that she was now jobless, Karen felt uncharacteristically upbeat, more positive about the future than she had in years. Suddenly she had options. She was free! Her career was no longer constrained by idiots like Depp and, without her job at the Smithsonian, there was now nothing to keep her in Washington; exhilarating–and a little scary. What would the future bring?

Karen knew her translation to be a solid piece of research. But, she realized, it paled in comparison to the possibility of finding the Maya books themselves. That would be an incredible feat! The Mexican professor seemed to be a nice guy, and she didn‘t blame him for being skeptical. After all, she hadn’t allowed him to see her work. He was right about the dangers of a trip to Mexico, too. An excursion into the Lacandon would require as much luck as hard work–maybe more. Chiapas was the most southern state in Mexico and had long served as a buffer between Guatemala and its larger neighbor to the north. There were few roads, almost no hospitals, and many remote areas with well deserved reputations as lawless enclaves of Mayan sedition. The state’s heavily forested mountains and jungle were intimidating to even the most jaded of explorers. And as David Wolf had so succinctly pointed out, she had no political connections in Mexico, and a guerilla war was underway in Chiapas. She knew absolutely no one in Mexico to assist her. What’s more, and it galled her to think about it, she was a woman and women were often times treated like crap and not taken seriously in Mexico. It would be an almost impossible task without the professor’s help. As things stood, David Wolf was her only potential ally. Fortunately, he might also be the best. There was really little choice but to avail herself of his services. Her fear of having her research stolen was unrealistic. He didn’t seem the type, and so she must include him in the project or forget about the stelae.

Karen turned the corner and continued walking, deep in thought. An unfamiliar man was passing by her house on the sidewalk. Across the street a loud Iranian family exited their brownstone and piled into a cream colored Volvo station wagon. Her ailing, gray-haired neighbor to the east, Mrs. Slobodnik, wore slippers and robe while kneeling over a well-tended flower garden. As the man on the sidewalk drew near, something about him caught her eye. Tall and skinny, he wore a Panama hat and cream-colored suit. A well-chewed cigar swelled the corner of his mouth, and he stared as she approached, unnerving her and causing her to avoid his eyes.

Perhaps a lack of sleep was fueling her imagination, but a woman had to be careful in Washington. Areas of the nation’s capitol seethed a desperate malevolence, and it was one of the murder/rape capitols of the country. This was the reality of being young and female–you could easily become a victim, and it colored your thinking. A woman must take precautions.

As he drew close, she quickly glanced at his face. God! A long thin scar trailed from his forehead and a pale, sightless eye, to his cheek. Her flesh crawled and she nearly stepped off the sidewalk as he passed, but she looked straight ahead and feigned indifference. Get a grip! she told herself, and walked another thirty paces to her apartment and turned towards the door. Glancing back down the street, she saw that he, too, had stopped and turned to watch her. He gave her a crooked smile, tipped his hat, then turned and strode purposefully away. Weird. What was that about? She shivered, wishing for the safety of her apartment. She unlocked the front entry, climbed one flight of stairs, then changed keys to unlock her apartment. But the knob turned without the key. Oh no, she thought. Not again! Karen pushed the door open, and–Sweet Mary! Furniture turned over, books spilled onto the floor, papers everywhere. The room stank of cigar smoke. Oh Jesus! It must have been the man on the sidewalk.

“Damn it! Damn, damn!” she cursed. This was too much. She screamed in anger, slammed the door behind her and raced down the stairs and over to Mrs. Slobodnik’s to call the police.

“You’re making a mistake, Karen. Why didn’t you ask for help?”

The accusation and disapproval in Aunt Rose’s voice lay like a wet towel, smothering Karen’s enthusiasm. She could visualize the old lady now–frowning into the telephone, faded red hair, wrinkled face and one hand on her hip. The call to the police had resulted in nothing but a cop ogling her body while taking a report. Nothing would come of it, she was sure, so she made excuses.

“This project could make my career. It could...”

“It could kill you is what it could do, Stinky. A young, single female has no business...”

“Quit calling me Stinky!”

“...has no business wandering through jungles all alone. There might be headhunters or cannibals.”

Karen groaned. Where did her aunt read this stuff? National Enquirer?

“There aren’t headhunters or cannibals in Mexico, auntie. Besides I won’t be alone. I’ll be with Dr. Wolf... and... er... others.”

“Worse yet, Stinky. Meeting a strange man in a foreign country. God... what would your father and mother say?”

“They’re dead, auntie. Been dead six years. Besides...there’s nothing for me here now. The Gould Stelae...”

“...and Lawrence,” the old lady ignored her. “What would Lawrence think if he knew you were going to Mexico?”

“Lawrence? I divorced Lawrence two years ago…remember?” Karen’s face grew warm and she gripped the phone tightly. “He’s a jerk, a liar, and a cheat! Who gives a damn what he thinks!”

“Watch your language, young lady,” reprimanded the old woman, but her voice showed no displeasure. “Come to Omaha. Please? Let’s talk before you decide.”

“It’s a done deal, Aunt Rose. I sublet my apartment and everything but the furniture is in storage. I meet Dr. Wolf in Acapulco next Wednesday. I’m committed to going. Please...I was hoping... well… you’re my only relative and I want your blessing.”

Still holding the telephone, Karen plopped onto her living room couch. Why didn’t Rose just say okay? Surely she knew Karen wouldn’t change her mind! This conversation had gone just like the previous ten –Karen planning and working enthusiastically, Aunt Rose overly cautious and disagreeing. But her aunt was all that remained of Karen’s family upon her parents’ death six years earlier. The staid and steady Rose had always been there for her–initially as guardian and executor of Karen’s parents’ estate and then as her primary supporter and only living relative. Even though the old lady had disapproved of Karen’s playing volleyball and her anthropology major in college, her auntie had helped Karen through graduate school and been a tower of strength during her divorce.

A silent battle of wills ensued, punctuated by her aunt’s occasional sighs. Finally, Rose cleared her throat and said, “Do you have enough money, Stinky?”

Karen smiled. “Yes, auntie. Money’s not an issue now, you know that. I just don’t want you thinking badly of me. I have to follow up on this. It’s important to my career.”

More silence, followed by the inevitable sigh. “Karen, you really must force yourself into a more... more…” the old lady hesitated, seeking an appropriate descriptor, “…into a more natural lifestyle for a young woman, or you’ll never find another man to...”

“Aunt Rose!”

“I don’t mean to nag, but...”

“Aunt Rose... please!” Karen frowned, then shifted the telephone to her other ear, her patience nearing an end. She dearly loved the meddlesome old woman, but the conversation was veering uncomfortably into recriminations and paths best not traveled.

While her aunt remained silent, Karen plunged ahead. “Auntie, my telephone will be disconnected tomorrow. That’s why I called. Just wish me well, okay? I’ll call again when I arrive in San Cristobal. Everything’s going to be fine. Trust me, okay? I‘m a big girl now. This is going to be the best thing I’ve done. You’ll see.”

“Oh, Stinky...” Her aunt’s voice cracked with emotion.

“Aunt Rose, I hate that name,” said Karen with resignation. “Listen, if everything goes well, maybe we can meet in Guadalajara...listen to mariachis and shop at Tlaquepaque. I’ll call when I’m close to finishing. We’ll have reason to celebrate. You’ll be proud, auntie. I promise.”

“I suppose I really must trust you again.” Sadness and resignation tinged the old woman’s voice. “How long will you be gone?”

“A month–give or take a week. I’ll stay in touch.”


“I promise, Aunt Rose. I can do this thing. You’ll see.”

“If you say so.” Aunt Rose sounded doubtful. “Send me a card for my collection. You know how much I like to get cards.”

“I love you, auntie. Don’t worry.”

“Bye, Stinky.”

“Goodbye, Rose...and stay out of the bingo parlors.”

“I only play at St. Francis Cabrini once a week,” said the old woman, defensively.

Karen’s line clicked, indicating a call waiting. “Got to go, Rose. Someone’s trying to reach me.”

“God bless you, child.”

Aunt Rose hung up, and Karen switched to the new caller.

“So...you are home. I’ve been trying to reach you,” said the unfriendly voice of Dr. Depp. “I instructed you to leave all your notes and materials at the Smithsonian, Miss Dumas. I’m certain you’re withholding valuable documentation from the museum and that you are deliberately...”

“Deliberately protecting my work from being stolen?” she finished the sentence for him. “What you have is all there is, Dr. Depp. Do some work yourself for a change. It’s all there if you’re smart enough to figure it out.”

“How dare you!”

“How dare YOU!” she shouted, standing up.

Depp paused, then said with deliberate calmness, “I’ll do whatever’s necessary to protect the museum’s interests, including taking you to court.”

“Call someone who cares, Dr. Depp. I’ll be in and out of Mexico by the time you can do anything. You lost this time. Might as well get used to it. Go find another female subordinate to harass. I’m hanging up now.”

Karen cradled the phone with trembling hand and took a deep breath. There...she’d done it. She’d told him to take a hike. She hadn’t allowed herself to be intimidated. Of course she’d withheld some of the documentation. He thought her analysis worthless anyway! Did he think she was senile? The Gould Stelae was her project and she would see it through until the end. Depp could complain to whomever–go scourge himself with a thorn bush and wear a hair shirt for all she cared. Nothing would stop her. Nothing.


Incongruent, Karen decided–the word best describing the handsome, stocky, dark-haired man who had seated himself across the aisle of the Mexicana jet. Dressed in khaki slacks and a guayabera shirt, he gave the impression of being a well-to-do businessman. He had fastened his seat belt, looked around to orient himself, and seeing Karen watching, gave her a thin, but disinterested smile before reaching to open a small book he had carried aboard. She couldn’t read the Spanish title, but the author’s name caught her attention. Sun Tzu? Why did that sound familiar? Then she remembered; The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. The thought of a classic Chinese strategy book translated into Spanish struck her as peculiar, even a little silly. She smiled and turned her head, but not before seeing the man’s shoes. Weathered, scuffed, and still harboring bits of red mud–inconsistent with his overall appearance. Maybe he wasn’t a businessman. Except for the strong arms and shoulders, he looked a little bookish. Maybe he was some kind of bureaucrat who lifted weights. Whatever. It didn’t matter. Karen didn’t know why she had even noticed, though she did find him attractive, maybe even a little stirring.

The plane taxied to its designated runway. After a short wait the pilot engaged the engines. The roar and pressure of the take-off gave way to a sinking feeling in her stomach as the plane lurched, hesitated momentarily, then lifted its nose to the sky. The jet tilted left, then leveled and headed south for Acapulco. The seatbelt light went off and flight attendants began flitting up and down the aisle, pouring free champagne and picking up the passengers’ small children to hug and praise. She loved flying Mexicana. It was her third trip, and you could savor the taste of Mexico before ever landing.

Karen had decided to waste no time in Acapulco. Dr. Wolf had agreed to meet her plane, though he seemed surprised that she intended to ignore the white sand beaches and towering cliffs of Acapulco Bay. “All work and no play?” he had chided. “Not even one day?” His mildly disapproving tone had irritated her, but she let it pass, knowing that she could play later. This was a business trip.