The interior of the building was brightly lit. Two black jets were parked side by side, one was massive. He didn’t see the plane he’d been in a few hours ago.
A tall man was strolling around the smaller jet, stopping every few feet to examine the exterior of the aircraft. He wore jeans and a denim jacket, and he needed a haircut. Pike guessed his age at close to 60.
Noticing him, the man said, “Hey. You Pike?”
Without waiting for a response, he ambled over and stuck out a hand. “I’m Early Helton. The pilot.”
Pike shook with him. “Anything wrong with the plane?”
“What?” Helton chuckled. “Aw, no. Just my pre-flight inspection.”
“Don’t you have gizmos that do that?” Pike said.
“Sure, but I try to eyeball the crate before we take off. Old habit. Hey, everybody else is on board. Climb on in and we’ll get this show on the road.”
Pike carried his gym bag up the stairs.
The interior of the passenger cabin was comfortable without being flashy. Eight plush chairs lined the walls. Each one had a foldaway work table. Gemma had hers open, and was typing away on a laptop. A door in the rear of the cabin presumably led to the restroom and the galley.
One other chair was occupied. Pike hadn’t expected another passenger. Especially one who had recently been shot.
“Miss me?” Drake’s voice was a little weak and his left arm was in a sling. Otherwise he appeared to be the same cocky jerk Pike remembered.
“I knew it,” Pike said.
“That I’m hard to kill?”
“No. I knew that sniper needed glasses.” Pike stowed his bag under one of the chairs. He settled into the soft leather seat.
Gemma looked up from her laptop.
He had planned to tell her about the visit from Jimmy Swift and the warning about the Brotherhood. Now he decided to save it for later. He wasn’t sure he could trust Drake, and he was little pissed he wasn’t told the security head would be joining them.
“Not until I got here and found out Chuckles was along for the ride.”
Gemma smiled at him.
“He insisted. The bullet went through his shoulder. And the doc loaded him up on antibiotics. We can always use an extra hand.”
“Sure,” Pike said.
The jet taxied out of the hanger. Pike buckled his seat belt and rested his head against the padded cushion. It had been almost three days since he’d slept. He closed his eyes and dozed off instantly.
It seemed like only seconds had passed when someone touched his shoulder. An attractive young woman with eyes of black smiled at him.
“Mister Pike,” she said in a soft voice, “would you like to dine? I have grilled salmon with an orange and fennel salad.”
“Got a burger?”
She smiled, revealing two of the most perfect dimples he had ever seen.
“Then fish and fennel it is.”
She turned and returned to the galley. Pike noticed that she wore a skirt that hugged her curves like a second skin.
“Hands off the employees, Donovan.”
From across the aisle, Gemma gave him an exaggerated look of disapproval.
“Hey, I was just trying to get along.”
A snort came from the direction of Drake’s seat. But when Pike turned, the older man’s eyes were closed. Pike thought he saw the hint of a smile on Drake’s face.
Pike pointed a thumb back at Drake as he said to Gemma, “Does he need to have his bandage changed? Or maybe his diaper?”
“Are you volunteering?” Gemma said.
Drake snorted again.
Pike stood up to stretch his legs. It was still dark. The only thing he saw in the window was his own reflection. He needed a shave. And he needed his life back. He felt guilty about it, but even though Pike loved his father, the man’s presumed death had brought to a conclusion his endless search for La Ciudad de los Dioses. That quest had driven away Pike’s mother, and stolen years of Pike’s childhood. It drove Pike away as well, but it wasn’t until his father disappeared that Pike felt he was free to be his own man. Now it felt like his freedom was slipping away.
The flight attendant had returned with his meal. But Pike’s appetite was gone.
The jet landed at Corozal Airport an hour before dawn. The passengers were not required to pass through Customs. They simply exited the aircraft and climbed into a pair of Hummers driven by officers of the Belize Defence Force. Pike and Gemma rode in one vehicle while Drake and Early Helton, the pilot, took the other.
“Why is the pilot coming?” Pike said.
Gemma shrugged. “He asked to ride along. Early’s a handy guy.”
Gemma began tapping at her smart phone. Pike watched the view. As the sun rose, the city turned to jungle. The four-lane highway became two narrow lanes of asphalt, then gravel and dirt. Despite the Hummer’s suspension, the last hour of the trip tossed Pike and Gemma like stones in a rock tumbler.
Finally, the vehicles stopped in the middle of the road. To the right was a clearing in the jungle. Pike saw a few tents and a couple of other vehicles, older American pickup trucks. The two drivers went to check out the camp, while their passengers stood and stretched.
After a minute spent poking into the tents, the two BDF officers returned. One of them – a short, stocky man who was Pike and Gemma’s driver, spoke in rapid Spanish. Gemma answered. She looked troubled.
“The camp is empty,” she said. “Our people and the other soldiers must be at the site.”
“They always go to work this early?” Pike said.
She didn’t answer. All of them got back into the Hummers. The dirt road lead back to a highway. They were only on the blacktop for a few minutes before the drivers found another narrow gravel lane. When the road ended, the divers continued plowing through the jungle. It seemed to Pike that the Hummers were making their own path.
The big trucks exited the green world at the edge of a vast clearing. A Mayan pyramid dominated the view.
They had arrived at El Castillo from the back door.
Before the Hummer had completely stopped, Gemma was out of the truck and jogging toward the ancient structure. Pike was right behind her. When Gemma abruptly stopped, he nearly slammed into her.
A mummy lay on the ground in front of her.
At least, it appeared to be a mummy. The skin was gray-black, and the lips had drawn away from the mouth exposing the white teeth.
It was definitely a mummy, Pike thought.
Except this mummy had long blonde hair and wore a T shirt, khaki shorts and New Balance running shoes. A cell phone was clasped in one hand.
Gemma knelt before the mummy. She reached out a hand, apparently intending to touch the blonde hair.
Pike grabbed her wrist.
“Don’t,” he said.
Gemma looked at him. There were tears in her eyes.
“This is Evie Donaldson,” she said. “We roomed together at college.”
“I remember her,” Pike said. “But you can’t touch her. We don’t know what did that to her.”
The others had joined them. One of the BDF officers muttered an oath in Spanish.
Helton, the pilot, walked past the corpse. He stopped and pointed toward the pyramid.
“There’s more,” he said.
Thirty yards away was another mummy, this one male. There was a third another ten yard farther. Closer to the pyramid, several corpse littered the ground.
“How many?” Pike said, still holding Gemma’s wrist.
“How many of your people were here? How many soldiers?”
“I...I think – ”
“Seventeen.” The speaker was one of the BDF officers, the one who drove Drake and Helton’s Hummer. He looked nearly as stricken as Gemma.
Seventeen people. And the way they were spaced out meant some of them had tried to escape.
“What the hell did this to ‘em?” Helton said.
Pike remembered his encounter with Jimmy Swift. Swift said the Brotherhood had found something. Something bad.
Pike believed he had just witnessed the handiwork of the Brotherhood of the First.
“Heads up,” Drake said. The security specialist pointed at the pyramid with his good arm. “Somebody’s still alive.”
A figure dressed in a bulky garment disappeared around the corner of the pyramid. The garment resembled a hazmat suit.
Pike had a feeling things were about to get worse.
To be Continued
© Mark Justice 2010