[When we last left our Apocalyptically Doomed Beer Adventurer, he had just found the ninth seal BLIGHT. Now he finds himself at a crossroads, and quite possibly, the end of the trail.]
“Yeah, I got it,” I said quietly into the phone as if sneaking a call from behind a library book shelf when in fact, there was little chance of anyone hearing me in the dark alleyway I was waiting in. From where I stood in the shadows, I could see a good section of the dimly lit street I had just turned off of, which lay good distance down from the Museum, and the only thing I could see were a couple of piles of garbage and a stray dog that they had attracted. My only hope now was that my ride would get here in a timely fashion. It wasn’t the pouring rain that had me uncomfortable, no it was the thought that any minute I might bump into someone from the local authorities and have to answer a lot of questions about why I was out this time of night and what I had in my backpack.
“Well make it quick! I’d really like to have a few miles between us and this town before someone discovers it’s missing,” I put the exclamation point at the end of my statement by pushing a button on my phone and disconnecting the call. Nothing to do now but wait. Leaning against one of the building walls, I allowed myself a slight grin as I remembered the phone call which had a slightly different tone only four days earlier.
“Yeah well it’s not here,” I stated firmly into the phone. “The clue in the caves at Dos Pilas was a specific reference to the Kabah site. At the temple of Chaac’s many faces. That’s an obvious reference to the Palace of Masks. ”
Indeed, the clue was unmistakable. Kabah, just south of the town of Uxmal in the Yucatan region of Mexico is the site of one of the most interesting ruins from the Mesoamerican era, The Palace of the Masks. Built around 7 AD, the structure is covered totally with faces of the rain god, Chaac. This massive repetition, and the fact that the figure of Chaac is prominently displayed on many of the Mayan structures in the surrounding area is totally unique in Mayan art. But the reasoning behind it is simple, this region of the Yucatan had no cenotes, so the Mayans in this area were totally dependent of rain for their water.
“Actually, I think we’ve been pretty damn lucky up to this point. These seals were placed in their hidden locations probably over a thousand years ago. Did you really think that all of them would still be laying around like a bunch of over looked Easter Eggs?” The last thing I needed right now was cigarette guy giving me a bunch of crap. I had spent hours combing the Palace of Masks looking for a clue to the next seal’s hiding place. And my heart sank when I found it because instead of the cause for celebration it should have been, it was quite possible an OMEN that perhaps my quest had come to an end.
The “masks” in the Palace of Masks are constructed using a mosaic of stones. Each mask at one point in time had one stone that had been carved into the shape of Chaac’s long hooked nose, inside many of which it was not uncommon to find hidden compartments that housed incense, bottles of oils and the like. With that in mind, I was sure the next seal was hidden in one of the many noses on the Palace of Masks since the second line of the clue translated into, only one protects the next. Sadly, it also wasn’t uncommon for these noses to be missing, many of them broken off throughout time and forever lost.
“Well I don’t appreciate the attitude as if this is some how my fault! It could have been removed 500 years go for all I know!” As I continued to listen to him tell me about his “disappointment”, my brain began to really process that this could actually be the end of the trail. What I said wasn’t a lie. Considering everything that had happened and how long the seals have been laying around, the fact that I’d gotten this far was amazing. But having gotten so close to the end of the trail, I was at the moment finding little consolation in that fact.
After a few more minutes of listening to cigarette man drone on, I quickly excused myself and disconnected the call. Shaking my head in disgust I turned back to the image of Chaac, its missing nose taunting me. I must have stood there for quite awhile, because the voice that came from behind me caused me to jump.
“Noticed the discrepancy, then have you?” I spun to see a short man, dressed in tan shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He looked like he’d be more at home on a Caribbean cruise than a Mayan ruin. “Most people don’t notice it.”
“Discrepancy?” I echoed, knowing full well what he meant, but still being able to think fast enough to know that I’d probably get more answers from this guy if I played dumb.
“Yeah, the nose or what’s left of it, you could say,” the man walked past me and placed his hand up to where Chaac’s nose would have been had it still been intact. “This particular nose, out of the hundreds here, was chiseled out of a different material than the rest of the complex. Every stone, every facade of this structure was made from stones that came from an area a little ways north of Campeche. But this one,” The man continued to caress the stone like it was a long lost lover. This one came from somewhere else.” The man turned smiled at me, “Spent many a nights wonder why that was.”
I didn’t have to wonder. Although the nose was gone, it had broken off at the surface of the wall, leaving the part that anchored into the wall still there. It had taken me awhile to find it, but I recognized composition of the 6×6 inch square the moment my eyes caught it. This nose had been fashioned from stone that was taken from the cave where I’d found the previous seal. As with previous locations, they had used something from where one seal had been hidden to mark the location of the next.
“To bad it’s gone, ” I turned away, as if the very act of saying the words had put the final curtain on my quest.
“Gone? Oh, it’s not gone. Most of the pieces of debris from Kabah have been shuttled off to various Museums and Scientific Institutes. But back when the excavation of this site began, the local magistrates made an arrangement with the government archeologists that some select pieces would remain here, you know, to respect the local history, to aid in the tourist trade. That particular piece was one of them. It’s housed over at a museum in Uxmal.”
My heart almost stopped as I spun on my heels to face the man. Could I really be this lucky? “What museum?”
That had been four days ago. I planned everything careful, including being picked up at this precise location within a few minutes of completing my task.
As I finished my thought a black jeep pulled up to the opening of the alleyway and its back door swung open. I didn’t need to wait for a verbal invitation, the cloud of cigarette smoke that drifted out of the door and into the damp, night air was confirmation enough that this was indeed my ride.
I didn’t even look up and down the street as I walked out of the alley, slide into the car and closed the door behind me. I felt a rush of welcome relief flow through my body as the driver pressed down on the gas pedal, steering the jeep out onto the street to begin our journey out of the city.
“So,” a familiar voice said from the seat next to me. “We can add breaking and entering; theft, and possession of stolen property to your impressive resume.”
“Whoever left this trail wanted these to be found. I’m just following the wishes of the original owners.”
“Just a matter of perspective,” I returned trying to convince myself more than anyone. I had no idea what the people who left this trail had intended. But that didn’t truly matter now. It was time to focus on the task at hand. “Did you bring it?”
“Yeah,” cigarette man nodded as he reached down and pulled a hammer from the floor of the jeep. “Would you believe that this was almost the hardest request you’ve made of me? Not exactly a lot of Home Depots around here.” He let out a soft laugh as he passed it to me.
I reached down into my backpack that I’d positioned between my legs and pulled out a large object wrapped in a towel. I positioned the object across my knees and unfolded the towel from around it revealing a hook shaped stone that to most people could have been anything, but to those who’ve visited Kabah, was quickly recognizable as one of Chaac’s noses.
Carefully tucking the edges of the towel under the stone to cushion my legs, I planted my feet firmly on the floor of the jeep until I was sure I was well braced and, taking a deep breath, swung. The backseat of a car proved not to be the best place to do this . Stone chips flew all over the jeep with each swing of the hammer, and I caught cigarette man flinching out of the corner of my eye on more than a couple swings. Small pieces were breaking off, but I was making no progress in actually breaking open the stone.
Miles and miles of roadway must have past under us, as I switched hands every time the one I was using got tired. And just when I thought I was going to have to take another approach, the stone abruptly split and fell into two pieces. Two solid pieces.
“Where is it?” the cigarette man whispered. “You said it would be in the nose!”
“I said it was likely in the nose,” I snapped back, staring at the chunks of rocks on my lap. “Apparently I was wrong.”
“Damn it!!” I screamed as I flung the hammer into the back of the jeep. I pulled off my hat and ran my sore fingers through my hair.
“Now what?” my co-passenger asked in a tone that indicated he expected me to have some sort of plan B.
“Now? Nothing. It’s gone. They’re gone,” the final words escaped my lips as a whisper. I sat back against the leather seat of the jeep and closed my eyes, “Like I said, we were lucky to find as many as we did.”
We sat in silence for the remainder of the drive, my co-passenger’s obvious anger illustrated by the fact that in the next 15 minutes, he didn’t even bother to light up a Morley. Soon I could see lights in front of us and not long after that the jeep was pulling into the the city of Merida where, after a few blocks we pulled up to the prearranged corner and came to a stop.
“I think considering the circumstances you should come in, Doctor Hunter. My superiors would probably like to hear about this failure from your own mouth.”
I let the word “failure” go. “Tell them I’ll be in soon. I’ve got stuff scattered all over this area that I need to collect, plus I have to get the bottles I did find from where I stashed them. I’m sure if nothing else they’ll want to see them.”
“Very well. Shall we say two days.”
“Make it three,” I countered opening the door and quickly stepped out into the street. It was late and quiet, which was exactly what I wanted. Not wanting to prolong this conversation any longer I quickly closed the door and started walking in a direction opposite of the way the car was heading. I walked slowly, deliberately listening for the sound of the Jeep as it pulled away from the corner. I waited a bit just to make sure that they didn’t double back up the street and then turned around. Sure that the car had indeed driven off I finally allowed myself to smile. “Cheers,” I said as I gave a half-hearted salute with my forefinger. “On to Peru,” I said as I turned and continued to walk up the street.
[Two Days Earlier]
I paused and looked around. The last thing I wanted to do was to be caught defacing a Mayan ruin. I had managed to get the piece of the nose that was still in the wall loose, but still couldn’t get enough hold on it to pry it out. I was starting to get impatient, and as such was starting to make a little more noise than I wanted. Just calm down, I told myself. You’re almost there.
The day had been eventful, I rose early to scope out the Museum to find it lightly guarded and with a minimum security system. This, happily, wasn’t going to be like breaking into the Louvre. I paid the three peso fee to see the exhibit and walked around the small rooms for 20 minutes pretending to be interested in all the relics they had recovered from the site, until I found myself in front of the object of my quest, housed in a glass display case, a hooked nose of Chaac that had obviously been carved out of a stone different from all the other pieces in the exhibit.
I nodded approvingly, as I started to devise a plan to liberate the nose from it’s current location when my eyes fell on the index card that was positioned next the nose. My joy turned to despair as I read the description:
This nose was removed from the Kabah site in 1894. It is carved from a single piece of stone that is unique from all the others found in the Palace of Masks, and because of this it was once believed to house a hidden chamber as many of the noses have. However, the piece was temporally transported to the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City in 1973, where X-Ray and Ultrasound tests revealed this not to be the case.
I brace myself on the glass case as for the second time in two days the sensation of defeat washed across my body. If there had been anything in the nose they’d have found it, and yet I had been so sure. So positive. After a minute I slowly turned and started to walk away when the line from the Mayan clue flashed into my head. “only one protects the next.” I stood up straight and turned my head back to the display case. The entire clue rolled around in my mind…. Chaac’s many faces…only one. “You’re a dumb ass,” I said to no one but myself. I had let a piece of knowledge about the Kabah site lead me down the wrong path. “The bottle wasn’t in the nose. They placed it behind it!”
That revelation had led me here, standing against a wall in a Mayan ruin, hoping the security guards didn’t feel particularly diligent about doing their rounds tonight. I had finally gotten the broken piece loose and very gently pulled it out of the wall. With a curious look I tossed the piece aside and reached into the cavity in the wall. My arm had gone in about two feet when my hand came into contact with an object. Feeling around until I was sure I had a good grip on it, I pulled out my arm to reveal a box that was happily reminiscent of one’s I’d seen before.
“Bingo,” I allowed myself a brief moment of celebration as I turned the box over in my hands. I knew I didn’t have much time so I walked quickly over to a secluded area and opened it. As I’d seen several times before, the inside of the box softly cradled a quartz like bottle and the inside of the lid contain inscriptions that should lead me to the next seal. I grasped the bottle by the neck, once again noticing that it was cold to the touch, and realizing that I had very little time, quickly pulled out my glass and opened the seal.
The liquid poured black with a nice tan head. I brought the glass up to my nose and was immediately struck by the essence of raspberries with undertones of roasted grains that almost slipped into a coffee like aroma. Having always loved raspberries, I let my apprehension about staying to long abate and allowed myself to sit for a bit enjoying the aroma of the liquid. Finally I raised the glass and took a healthy drink. My tongue was greeted initially with malt, chocolate, raisins and hints of roasted grain but as the liquid started to work it’s way back in my mouth, the raspberry reappeared. I thought the raspberry in the flavor was almost sharp, like what you get in something where the flavor has been add as a syrup, not with fresh fruit. Over all the liquid had nuances that I would expect in a Belgian style beer, but the malt, chocolate and raspberries were definitely the main players here. The ending was clean with a little hint of lingering stickiness. All in all I thought this one had been pretty darn good.
As I took a few more drinks, the familiar warmth that had also experienced from the previous liquids began to flow through my body. Not really focusing on it since I didn’t really have any pains that it could work it’s magic on, I started to think about my earlier run in with Lara. She warned me about knowing secrets, and indeed, I had a growing knowledge of a pretty big one. I mean, not that a bunch of bottles of mysterious liquid buried in and around Mesoamerica was a national security issue or anything. But the mysterious group that I was working for was taking great pains to keep my activities secret, and because of that, in the end I’d be the only one with any real knowledge of these seals. And I couldn’t lie, because of that, I had been questioning the motives of those who had hired me even before my conversation with Lara.
I mulled my current situation over in my head as the last hint of raspberry flowed over my tongue, when I suddenly found a surprising clarity slowly seeping into my mind, as if the strange health properties of the liquid, unable to find anything in my body to work their mysterious reparations on, had begun to focus on the perplexing problem in my head. As if lifting a veil, my thoughts coalesced into the rational conclusion that it was probably better to put a little distance between me and my employers until I could figure out what their end game was.
Putting the bottle and glass into my backpack, I walked over to a table that was obviously used to clean and catalog pieces from the surrounding ruins. The table had a nice collection of objects on it, including a couple that would probably serve my purposes quite well. My mind made up, I placed my backpack on the table and reached down to pick up a towel that had fallen to the ground. Looking about the table, I found a suitable nose that was mostly intact and figuring it to be perfect for my plan, started to wrap the towel around it.
[To Be Continued]