Sunday, March 28, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 7

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Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 7

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.”

“The what?”

“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.

“Who’s Gustav?”

“He’ 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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 6

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Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 6

Pike arrived back at the airport a few minutes before Gemma’s deadline. He parked the Hummer next to an identical vehicle at the side of the Ravenscroft private hanger.

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.

“Any problems?”

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.

“Sorry, no.”

“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.

“Mister Pike?”

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