Chapter One

The sun hung low over the horizon, casting long shadows over New York City. The orange rays of light passed through the blinds of an office the size of a refrigerator box, illuminating a man of many talents. Detective Dirk Cunningham, as he fancied himself, leaned back in his chair, feet propped up on his desk.

He poured over the latest issue of Batman, taking in the caped crusader’s latest exploits. Between pages he sipped from a glass of ice tea, hoping to be disturbed. He was in the business of helping people, whatever that meant.

Just before he turned the last page, there was a knock on the door. He swiftly buried the book in his desk drawer, bringing out an empty whisky bottle and a few files full of blank papers. He carefully put away a half finished model airplane, and spread the decoy over his playing cards and comic books. As a finishing touch he placed the bottle in the centre of the display.

Then he leaned back, ice tea in hand, ready to face his customer.

“Come in,” he said, remembering to loosen his tie.

A shapely young woman, wearing a black dress no mother would ever approve of, pushed his door aside. She strutted into his office like she owned the place. A pair of dark eyes scanned him, and for a moment Dirk feared she might have seen through his façade. He casually reached for the empty liquor bottle, taking the opportunity to make sure everything incriminating was concealed.

“Mister Cunningham, I presume?” She asked.

“Call me Dirk,” he replied, grabbing his fedora from under the desk. “And you must be…”

“Tarcia Jones. We spoke a few hours ago, if I recall.”

“Ah yes,” Dirk murmured, running his fingers over an old rotary phone. “You said something about a missing brother?”

“Yes,” she replied, “He was leading an expedition in Belize, when…”

“All communications were lost or he didn’t return on time.”

“Hmm, you deduced this?”

“Since you’re here about a man missing in the jungle, it wasn’t hard. Only a few ways to figure out he needed help, and since you didn’t mention a distress call, that number was drastically reduced.”

“My, my, someone thinks’ they’re quite clever, don’t they?”

“Naturally, though one might ask why you don’t simply report him missing to the proper authorities?”

“I put little trust in such men, as I find those with personal investment are more likely to produce results.”

“I see.”

“Our plane leaves in an hour,” she stated, producing a ticket from her purse. “I trust you’ll be there?”

“Guessing no isn’t an answer? Just let me make a phone-call to my guy down there.”

Chapter Two

As the plane began taxiing down the runway, Dirk felt a bit ill. Flying never felt natural to him, no matter how many times he had done it. Beside him, his client leaned back and relaxed, putting her nose into a paperback, unaffected by the dread that Dirk felt.

Or perhaps she was simply good at concealing it, he thought. Deep down he suspected that everyone felt as he did, as he believed the fear of heights to be universal. Hoping to distract himself, Dirk decided to interrogate his client.

“So, Miss Jones, I’m going to need to know everything you know if you expect this venture to be successful.”

“Of course,” She replied, producing a photograph of a young man in football gear. “This is my brother, Michael.”

“If I may ask, what was he doing down there?”

“Ah, you see, our grandfather, Doctor Victor Eckhart, lead an expedition into the jungle in the winter of 1945. Not a trace was ever found, until a few years ago that is.”

“Oh?”

“The journal of one of his colleges, Dr. Johan Krim, turned up,” she said, pulling out a photograph of a tattered book. “There’s a tale to be told of how it wound up back in our hands, but suffice it to say that when Michael got his hands on it, well, he got ideas in his head.”

“Apparently,” Dirk remarked. “How long has he been missing?”

“At least two weeks, probably longer.”

“A football player?”

“Not anymore, bad back and such.”

“What where they looking for, exactly?”

“The tomb of Mamintlallapalla, a mad Mesoamerican king.”

“Interesting, he was a Mayanist? One of them, that is?”

“Of a sort. My grandfather was interested in a number of legends, and was convinced that they possessed a power source of some kind. Something almost magical.”

“Was he…”

“…in his right mind? No doubt he was not, but, that’s ancient history. Right now I want to make sure history repeats itself.” Tarcia said firmly, “Erm, does not, rather.”

“Ah, of course,” Dirk murmured, looking closer at the photograph. “That, looks like German on the cover.

“Indeed, that would be because Dr. Victor Eckhart was German.”

“Hmm, wasn’t a Nazi, was he?”

“I’d like to get back to the film,” Tarcia said quietly, turning away from him.

“I-I see. Erm, with any luck, we’ll pick up on his trail in no time at all.”

“Good.”

Chapter Three

Dirk staggered out of the plan, glad to have his feet back on terra firma. Before he could lean down and kiss the tarmac, to fulfill the complete cliché, another passenger brushed passed him, bringing him back to reality. He spun around and looked for his client, though it seemed Miss Jones was taking her time.

It was a painful three minutes before she emerged from the interior. She smiled at Dirk, wading down the stairs through the various flavors of tourists also trying to get the hell of the plane.

“Good of you to join me, Miss Jones.”

“Hope I didn’t keep you long.”

“Not at all, now, I need to make a phone call.”

“Here, use my cell.”

“I’d prefer a land line; specifically a payphone in the terminal,” Dirk replied, “My contact has a thing about anonymous cell phone calls.”

“A thing?”

“He doesn’t answer them. Ever.”

“Very well, I’ll go procure us a taxi. Meet me out front in five minutes.”

Dirk watched her walk around the end of the building, unable to shake the feeling that he had somehow upset her. The moment she vanished he ran into the terminal building, flashing his passport by the half asleep guard. Once in the sunny entryway, he began checking the payphones until he found one that still worked.

He slipped a coin in and punched his old friend’s number. A few rings later and a half asleep barkeep was on the line.

“Who am I speaking to?”

“Tell Kantok that Dirk is on his way.”

“You mean Kantok’?” The man croaked.

“Yeah, him, gatta go.” He said hurriedly, spotting his client waving at him through the glass.

Dirk dropped the telephone back onto the receiver and sprinted out into the parking lot. Tarcia was waiting for him, strumming her fingers against the roof of their cab. Glad she had made good on her promise, he clambered inside, waiting for them to get underway.

“You seem to be in a hurry,” Tarcia commented, sliding in beside him.

“I don’t want to keep Kantok waiting.” he replied, leaning forward. “Hey, cabby, make for Shoktzil’s, down the highway.”

“You sure tourist?” The cabby asked surprised.

“Completely, and I’m not a tourist, either.”

The cabby shrugged and promptly floored it. Dirk was pushed back against his seat as the car flew out of the parking lot and veered down the main highway. Several unsafe lane changes and minor heart attacks later, the cab arrived at its destination.

Fearing for his life, Dirk promptly forked over the cash and made his escape from the vehicle. Moments later the car screeched back onto the roadway, returning to its prowl for victims.

“You sure know how to pick them, Miss Jones.”

“Quiet,” she advised, looking over the tavern. “This is that place?”

“Yep.”

“I was afraid you would say that.”

Shokztil’s tavern had the appearance of a rotten log. The line of windows were either too dusty to see through or boarded up. The covered walkway along the front of the building was cracked and discolored, while the roof above sagged in the centre like a tarp held aloft by four broomsticks. Tarcia blinked, spotting several broomsticks buttressing the most rotten part of the roof.

“I’ll lead the way then,” Dirk muttered, stepping through the door.

Inside was a dank atmosphere, reeking of stale beer and clamoring voices. Dirk Picked his way through the mess, looking for his contact. Near the end of the bar sat a tall man in a long brown coat. His locks of greasy black hair fell to his shoulders, almost concealing a scar across his neck.

As Dirk approached the man spun around, as if he had sensed him.

“Haha, Dirk, it’s good to see you.”

“Hello Kantok. You’re looking better than the last time I saw you.”

“Well, you know how things go. Who is the woman?”

“Tarcia Jones.”

“Ah, a rare pleasure,” Kantok said, gently grasping her hand, “So…”

“Kantok’, telephone,” the bartender said, pushing the receiver into his hands.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, putting it to his ear. “H-hello.”

Tarcia sighed, settling in for the long haul.

“Yes-yes, I know that’s what I…uh-huh. No really, I did not mean to…Yes, yes, I’ll make it up to you when I get back. I promise. No, I said I would probably read to you about the princesses tonight…probably, that’s what I said sweetie. Now, I have some business…No, I’m not always on business, please, let your mother read to you tonight. Alright, alright, I promise, really and truly promise, love you.”

Kantok’ sighed, placing the phone down on the counter. He looked over at Dirk and Tarcia, smirking at them.

“My daughter, she’s a determined one. Wants’ to hear about princesses and castles and knights, you know.”

“Indeed,” Tarcia said quietly. “Now, how about we get down to business?”

Chapter Four

“So, Mister Cunningham, Misses Jones, you require my services, yes?”

“Yes, we need to find my brother, Michael, and his expedition.”

“Sounds easy enough, where did they get lost.”

“In the northern jungles, they were searching…”

“Northern jungles? No way.”

“I’m afraid that’s where we want to go,” Dirk interjected.

“You don’t want to go north, Mister Cunningham. Strange things have been happening up there.”

“I’m no stranger to strangeness, Kantok.”

“The Oketle Cartel in that area suddenly vanished about three years ago, and they never recovered from the loss. And just a few months ago, more cartel hideouts started vanishing, right around the time that electric prices plummeted.”

“Huh, what does the disappearance of a few ruffians have to do with utility rates?”

“Everything. The government is keeping quiet, but I know, I know they’re connected. I’d bet my lucky teeth on it.”

“If what you say is true, then it’s all the more urgent we depart.” Tarcia insisted, pulling open her purse. “Perhaps some payment is in order?”

“I-Wow, that’s a lot of money.”

A stack of hundred dollar bills hit the table. Kantok’ stared at it, tentatively rubbing it to make certain he was not hallucinating. He looked up into Tarcia’s face, a wide grin breaking out across his face.

“Alright, you talked me into it. Let’s find this idiot.”

“That’s my brother you’re talking about,” Tarica snapped.

“Eh, fine, fine, as long as you’ve got the money, I’ll give the man respect.”

“I would hope so,” she muttered, making for the exit.

Kantok’ downed a last shot of some yellow liquid before gathering up all his stuff. A knife, a mini-bottle of tequila, and a few sheets of paper, which he stuffed into his coat. With a twirl he popped his brown hat atop his skull and left the establishment.

Outside was his aged green jeep, the army green paint peeling off of the seams. He hopped into the driver’s seat and gunned the engine. As they sped down the highway, Kantok’ looked back at his passengers.

“Welcome to Belize, Misses Jones.”

“A lovely country,” she replied, glancing at the wall of trees on either side.

“How about being a bit more specific than, ‘the northern jungles’, eh?” He pushed a map at her.

“Just take me towards the border, off the main roads, I’ll know the way.”

“Suit yourself, but we might have to charge extra if this takes too long.”

“Don’t worry, everything will work out fine.”

Chapter Five

The aged jeep cairned off the main road and onto a disused logging path scarcely different than the forest floor around them. Gnarled, twisted trees fanned out in all directions, casting a gloom over the entire area. Barely a ray of the bright midday sun penetrated the dark canopy.

A strange discomfort came over Dirk, a feeling as though he was being drawn into something beyond a simple missing person’s case. A moment later a cold .38 revolver was pressed into his hand. He looked up at Kantok’, noticing an Enfield lying on the dashboard.

The discomfort had apparently come over his friend, as Dirk could not remember Kantok’ breaking out the weapons so soon into a trek before. He carefully holstered the weapon, hoping it would not upset Tarcia too much.

Dirk was surprised again when he noticed Tarcia lazily reading a book. She seemed to be unaffected by the strange dread, and appeared quite relaxed. Something about this seemed wrong to Dirk, though he could not put his finger on what it was.

A loud curse from Kantok’ interrupted his thoughts. An APC that stretched al the way across the road was bearing down on them. Dirk braced himself for a head on collision, knowing the odds of their survival were slim.

Kantok’ swerved off into the foliage. The jeep jostled them around as it dodged around the ancient trees, the sky going dark above their heads. Dirk gripped his seat, bouncing up and down hard enough to rattle his teeth.

In seconds the detour was over. The jeep reemerged onto the trail, the APC now safely behind them. Relief spread through the passengers, Kantok’ patting the steering wheel affectionately. Soon the feeling of relief faded, leaving Dirk oddly empty inside.

A few hours later a military truck appeared ahead of them. As they all reflexively braced themselves for another detour, Dirk noticed that no one was at the wheel. Kantok’  let up on the gas, pulling alongside the vehicle.

The truck looked recently abandoned, though had no visible damage. Apparently hoping to find something of value still tucked away inside, Kantok’ pulled up behind it and hopped out.

It was then that Dirk realized how comforting the hum of the engine had been.  Silence fell over the area leaving a ringing in his ears.  Unsure if remaining in the car or getting out would be less nerve wracking, Dirk pushed the door halfway open and left it there for a full ten seconds.

Only when Tarcia got out did he decide to see what Kantok’ was up to .He approached his friend who was rummaging around in the cab. Hesitantly, Dirk tapped him on the shoulder.

“Ooh, what do you want?”

“Find anything helpful?”

“A handful of bullets, a flask of something nice, and a few emergency meals,” Kantok’ replied, holding out some of the spoils behind him. “Also, a nice, government map.”

“Ah, huh.”

“Here, take these back to the car, I’m going to get a siphon going.”

Kantok’ filled dirk’s arms with about eight meals and shooed him away.

“Shouldn’t we get a move on?” Dirk replied, carefully ferrying the goods.

“About that,” Kantok’ said, approaching the jeep, “Miss Jones, perhaps you could enlighten me as to where we are going?”

“I told you, into the northern Jungles.”

“That’s a direction, not a destination. There is one friendly village north of here that has petrol, so before we can plot our route, I must know what your grandfather trying to find.”

“The Tomb of Mamintlallapalla.”

“The mad Nahua king of the world? R-really, his mind was broken enough to…”

“You assured me that my payment would bring proper respect.”

“Misses Jones, Mamintallapalla’s tomb is suspected of being anywhere between Panama and Teotihuacan. How you expect us to locate him is beyond me.”

“Perhaps, then, I should have sought a better guide.”

“Can we all calm down,” Dirk said, walking between them. “Miss Jones, do you have anything to go on, anything at all that might narrow down our search area?”

“Indeed, I have something,” she replied, pulling a folded sheet of paper from her purse, “This is the last letter I received from him.”

Kantok’ snatched it from her and gave the letter a once over. Unimpressed, he flipped it back, shaking his head. Tarcia leapt forward, grabbing it before it hit the ground. She glared at Kantok’, who simply smirked at her.

“Bah, I don’t believe a word of it.”

“Suit yourself, but know that my grandfather’s discovery will shortly be known to the world.”

“Suppose if you’re this determined to waste your money, I might as well collect some,” Kantok’ said, unfolding the map, “Miss Jones, I’ll take you on your wild goose chase, but I won’t be wasting more than three days on this venture.”

“Fine, by then you’ll be convinced anyway.”

“Whatever you say.”

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