Pike took off at a sprint.
“Donovan! Wait!” Gemma’s shout did not slow him. Pike knew he wasn’t a patient man. He long ago stopped trying to be. He embraced his flaws and tried to make them work for him.
He ran straight for the pyramid, changing his course only to avoid the sprawled, mummified corpses that littered the ground. He reached the corner of El Castillo and rounded the edge of the massive stone structure. The thick jungle air filled his lungs. He heard the cries of exotic birds and a screech that may have come from a monkey.
The white-garbed figure ran toward the gravel parking lot. Several trucks sat there, presumably the vehicles that ferried the archeological team to the site.
The person he chased was smaller than Pike had expected, and he was slow. A hazmat suit was not conducive to covering distances quickly.
A cloud of dust hovered above the parking lot. Pike heard the crunch of gravel and the roar of a big truck engine. It grew fainter as he closed the gap with the other runner, and he realized what had happened.
The getaway vehicle was gone. Whitey had been left behind.
The figure in the hazmat suit ran onto the gravel of the lot, then came to a stop with shoulders slumped in resignation or disbelief.
Pike hurled his body at the other man, and both of them skidded across the lot. The sharp edges of the gravel tore at Pike’s arms.
That’s gonna hurt later, he thought.
He rose to his knees and yanked on the hood of the hazmat suit. The owner of the suit grabbed at Pike’s wrists. With a rip of Velcro tearing loose, the hood came off, and Pike saw a mass of red hair. The figure rolled over and tried to push Pike away with a jab of a knee. The knee grazed Pike’s crotch, and he instinctively lashed out. His right fist only grazed the side of the other’s head. It was enough to stop the struggle. The figure in white grew still.
For the first time Pike saw it was a woman.
She stared up at him with eyes the color of emeralds. But the green eyes were dazed and unfocused. He rolled off of her.
The crunch of gravel alerted him to the arrival of the others.
As usual, Gemma instantly assessed the situation.
“You beat up a girl?”
“I’m fine,” he said. “Thanks for asking.” He brushed gravel from his scraped forearms. Dirt and blood were caked in streaks along his skin.
Drake and Helton were right behind Gemma. The two BDF officers stood at a distance.
“Who’s she?” Helton said.
“You beat up a girl?” Drake said. He chuckled.
“I didn’t know she was a...she. Aw, screw this.” Pike stood up and pulled the red-haired woman to her feet. “Snap out of it. I didn’t hit you that hard.”
The woman moaned. She touched a hand to the spot on her chin where Pike’s fist had landed. The area was already bruised. The contact shook her out of the daze. She realized her face was exposed to the air.
“No!” She tried to free herself from Pike’s grip. Her gaze settled on the hood of her hazmat suit, which lay a few feet away in the gravel.
“Forget it, sister,” Gemma said. “What happened here?”
The woman gaped at Gemma. Her mouth opened and closed, but no words came out.
Gemma grabbed a handful of the woman’s hair and yanked. The red-haired woman squealed. Gemma followed up with a hard slap across the other female’s face. Pike released his grip on the hazmat suit.
“Gemma,” he said.
“Shut up.” She dragged the girl to Drake by a fistful of red hair. Gemma pulled Drake’s handgun from the shoulder rig he wore over his polo shirt. Drake’s expression never changed. He appeared to be vaguely amused by the proceedings.
Gemma jammed the barrel of the weapon under the bruised chin of the woman in the white outfit.
“Tell me what happened here.”
“Please,” the woman said. “Shoot me. Please.”
“Excuse me?” Gemma said.
“I’d rather be shot. Anything’s better than the Gray Death.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Helton said.
“What’s the Gray Death?” Gemma said.
“It‘s what happened to them,” the woman said. She pointed to two mummified corpses that lay at the base of El Castillo.
The reminder of the fate of her employees enraged Gemma. She pulled on the woman’s hair hard enough to bend her backward.
“How did you kill my people? And why?”
“I didn’t...” the red-haired woman began. “You think I did this?”
“You’re dressed for the part.”
“I’m not a killer. I’m an archeologist.”
“For the Brotherhood of the First,” Pike said.
The red head’s eyes darted to him.
“Yes,” she said. “We’re doing good work. We’re protecting history and we’re protecting mankind.”
“Tell that to those dead people,” Gemma said. She increased the pressure of the Glock against the young woman’s chin.
“I don’t know what happened! They were dead when I was brought in. We were told to wear these suits as a precaution. I examined the site, that’s all. The chamber under the pyramid. Then you showed up and the rest of them left me behind.”
“How many of you were there?” Pike said.
“Four. Billings, our team leader. Niles Freeland, the other archaeologist. And Gustav.” She shuddered as she mentioned the third name.
“He’s...security. He’s the one who told us about the dead bodies and he made us wear these suits.”
Pike considered her words. Whatever this Gray Death was, it could be what Jimmy Swift had warned him about. If it was, then Pike suspected this Gustav had made an earlier trip to El Castillo.
“Pardon my concern.” Early Helton said, “but should we be worried about getting mummified?”
“Doubtful,” Gemma said. “If this thing was airborne we’ve already been exposed. Based on the position of the bodies it looks like it was fast-acting. My guess is it dissipated in the air.”
“Did this Gustav carry anything with him?” Pike said.
“A gun. And a case, like a small tool box. After I finished my examination of the chamber, Billings ordered Gustav to go back down there.” A dawning realization lit up her face. “When he came out, he didn’t have the tool box.”
“What does that mean?” Helton said.
“It means we have to get out of here,” Pike said.
It started as a rumble, like the coming of distant thunder. They quickly felt the vibration in their feet.
“Earthquake,” Helton said.
“No.” Pike pointed at the pyramid. A cloud of white chalky powder flew from the front entrance of El Castillo. A crack appeared in the center of the narrow steps that led up the face of the pyramid. The force of the vibrations grew stronger. Stones fell from the face of the ancient Mayan structure until the pyramid collapsed upon itself.
The shaking of the earth ceased.
They all stood silently until the dust was carried away by the light jungle breeze. When they could see what remained, all of them were stunned.
Finally, Pike spoke.
“Son of a bitch.”
Where a glorious testament to the skill of a lost civilization once stood, now there was only a pile of rubble.
The Brotherhood of the First had destroyed El Castillo, and buried the chamber beneath it.
“Madre de Dios.” The speaker was one of the BDF officers. Pike didn’t turn to see which one it was.
Gemma’s face was contorted with rage and grief. She slapped the red-haired woman again.
“Gemma, she didn’t do this,” Pike said.
“Yes, she did.” Gemma’s voice was tight. “She’s a part of this. She killed my people. She destroyed any clues that might have led to my father.”
“This is going to be hard to hide,” Drake said. “Are we sticking around to answer questions?”
Gemma glanced at the two BDF officers. She spoke to them in Spanish. The debate quickly became heated. She switched to English and said, “Drake, did you pack the gold like I asked?”
“It’s on the jet.”
“Good. Our hosts are taking us back to the airport. And thanks to my...generosity, they’re letting me take Red with us.”
“Why?” Pike said.
“Because we’re going to have a nice civilized conversation on the way back. And if I don’t get the answers I want, I’m going to toss her out of the plane.”
The other woman closed her eyes. Pike leaned toward her.
“Nice job on that protecting history thing,” he said.
To be Continued
© Mark Justice 2010