Friday, October 12, 2012

Jaguar Sky: Part Three

Below is the third installment of Jaguar Sky. If you missed a previous chapter, click the link in the righthand navbar to find the earlier posts.

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Sunday

December 19, 2010

     Maddie jerked awake at the sound of Joan’s travel alarm clock. She sat up and looked around in confusion, squinting at the pale light that filtered in through the curtains. It took a moment for her to remember where she was. Though the room was quiet, words echoed through Maddie’s head. The main female figure from Maddie’s November nightmare had appeared again in her dreams moments before the alarm sounded.
     “At last you have come, Chool Eesh Kookool,” the voice echoed. “Welcome home.”
     Maddie repeated the name. “Chool Eesh Kookool.” Its sounds were foreign, awkward.
     “What?”
     Maddie jumped at the sound of Joan’s voice. Joan was bent over the sink, washing her face. Her hair dipped in the water as she moved. She stood up and dried her face.
     “I said, what? I didn’t catch what you said.”
     “Oh, nothing,” Maddie replied. “I’m pretty incoherent in the morning.”
     Maddie picked up her watch from the nightstand and squinted at it. 6:02 a.m. She changed out of the sweatshorts and t-shirt that served as her pajamas and pulled on khaki shorts, lightweight work boots and a clean t-shirt. She slipped on her denim jacket against the morning chill.
     The team’s morning activities began with a walk down the street and around the corner to El Centro, a restaurant on the ground floor of a hotel of the same name. The El Centro catered to business travelers. Breakfast was hearty, tasty and inexpensive and the walk back to the Mopan insured that Maddie was fully awake by the time their transportation arrived.
     As she carried her luggage down to the lobby and peered out the front window Maddie expected to see the same van they had ridden in the day before, complete with its garrulous driver. Instead, parked bumper to bumper in front of the hotel were an aged Oldsmobile Delta 88 with its gold paint fading into rust here and there and an old powder-blue Ford pickup truck with the tailgate missing.
     Pete and Tom heaved a large wooden crate into the back of the truck as two Creole men balanced the second crate on an appliance dolly and wheeled it toward the truck. Once the crates were loaded Tom produced a hank of rope and strapped a makeshift barrier across the back of the truck’s bed where the tailgate should have been. Maddie watched his hands as he pulled the rope taut and tied knots to hold the crates in.
     “OK, folks,” he said, pointing to the car, “luggage goes in the trunk until it’s full, then the rest goes in the truck.”
     Pete and Colin shouldered their way to the Delta 88 and deposited their bags in the trunk. Maddie, Ben and Joan tossed their bags in the back of the truck. Tom followed suit, rearranging the luggage so it lay low on top of the crates. He ran several lengths of rope across the bags then turned, surveying the group.
     “Joan,” he said, “will you please ride with the crates and keep an eye on them? Ben, why don’t you go with her.”
     Ben sat in the middle, next to the driver, and Joan squeezed in against the door. Pete and Colin vied for the front seat of the Oldsmobile.
     Tom set his hand on Maddie’s shoulder. “You tend to get carsick, don’t you?” he said loudly. “You’d better take the front seat.”
     He shooed Pete and Colin away and held the door open for Maddie. She got in, avoiding his eyes, and shrank back as he shut the door for her. Tom urged Pete and Colin into the back seat. He followed them in.
     "OK, troops, let’s get moving.”
     The fifty-five mile drive to Orange Walk was uneventful. They all rode with windows down. Maddie inhaled the salty air as they passed through the mangrove swamp on the outskirts of the city. The tangle of mangrove roots collected dirt and plants as the tide soughed in and out. Over the years the mangroves built the land.
     The vehicles rumbled north along the narrow strip of land between Haulover Creek and the Caribbean. Soon the road bore left, crossed the river and turned inland for a stretch. They passed the turnoff for the airport and entered new territory. The land was scrub forest with a few palmettos. Every now and then they passed a small farmhouse or a field of cattle.
     “There’s not much here, is there?” said Pete. “When the Maya died out nobody else took over, I guess.”
     “I thought there were always some people here, right, Dr. Davies?” said Maddie.
     Tom waved his hand around. “You’ve got to remember that modern Belize wasn’t founded by settlers looking for farmland like the U.S. was. Belize was settled by smugglers, rum runners, pirates – and later by loggers and traders. Everyone piled up in the cities and very few farmed the land. The government still offers incentives to get people to farm so the local economy won’t be so reliant on imported food.”
     A few miles later Colin laughed and the others inquired as to the source of his amusement.
     “I just figured out what those poles are,” he said.
     “I was wondering that myself,” said Pete. They were talking about the fifteen-foot-tall metal poles that stood in pairs on opposite sides of the road, one pair every few hundred yards.
     “Don’t you see?” said Colin. “They keep planes from landing on the highway. The poles are close to the sides of the road. They would break a plane’s wings.”
     “But why would a plane want to land on the highway?” asked Maddie. “There’s the big airport in Belize City plus small ones in a couple other cities.”
     “You land on a road when you don’t want people to know you’re landing.”
     Maddie shrugged.
     “Smugglers, Madeleine. Drug runners,” Colin explained with exaggerated patience.
     “Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary,” Tom read off a sign by the roadside.
     Just south of Orange Walk they crossed the New River where they had to stop and pay the toll at the Tower Hill Bridge. As they neared the edge of town the vehicles began to bump over shreds of plant matter that littered the road.
     “What’s all this trash on the road?” said Pete.
     “Sugarcane,” said Tom. “There’s a big sugar mill just south of town. It’s the biggest business in Orange Walk District, except maybe the Mennonite cattle farms.”
     Sure enough, two big trucks hauling trailers loaded with sugarcane rumbled past them in the opposite direction, shedding bits of cane onto the road as they went.
     The team drove into Orange Walk Town, navigating narrow streets crowded with pedestrians. Maddie heard church bells ringing in the distance. They went around the edge of the town square and had to weave back and forth to avoid several horse-drawn carriages.
     “What is this, Old West Day?” said Colin.
     “They’re Mennonites, aren’t they?” said Maddie. She watched the men in overalls and cowboy hats and the women in brightly-colored, ankle-length dresses with white aprons and old-fashioned sun bonnets as they rolled slowly by in their carriages.
     “They sure are,” said Tom. “They come to town to buy supplies and sell produce and beef. They supply the beef for most of the restaurants and grocery stores around the country.”
     “So they live here in Orange Walk,” said Pete.
     Tom shook his head. “A few live here, just what you see on their way to church this morning, but most of them live in a settlement down the river. We’ll pass by it on our way to Lamanai.”
     The car pulled up beside a restaurant one block off the square. The truck parked next to it and everyone got out. Maddie glanced at her watch. It was just past ten o’clock but her stomach was already rumbling for lunch.
     Tom went into the restaurant and returned a few moments later accompanied by a rotund Hispanic man who introduced himself as Consuelo. He produced a rickety appliance dolly and helped Tom unload the luggage out of the truck so they could get to the crates. Tom pointed to a path that ran along the side of the building.
     “The boats are down there, behind the building,” he said to the group. “Pete, would you help me haul these crates down to the dock?” Pete nodded. “And Joan, please supervise the luggage. It goes down to the dock as well.”
     Joan and the students picked up the luggage that Tom and Consuelo had taken out of the back of the truck. They walked down to the dock, grunting under their loads. Even in December the sun shone bright and warm. It took them two trips to carry all the luggage to the dock. They waited while Tom, Pete and Consuelo struggled with the second crate, delicately balanced on the dolly. The first crate was already loaded in one of two sixteen-foot boats moored at the dock. A young Creole man fiddled with an outboard motor – there were two on each boat – while Tom, Pete and Consuelo wrestled the remaining crate into the boat. Tom stood in the back of the boat, beside the crate, in the full sun. He pulled his hat off and mopped his forehead with a bandana.
     “The luggage goes in the other boat,” he said, “in the back behind the seats.”
     Ben stepped into the back of the other boat. Joan and Maddie handed bags to him and he arranged them neatly in the available space. Tom assured himself that the crates were secure in the first boat then stepped back onto the dock.
     “OK, folks, are we ready?” he asked. Everyone assented. “I want one faculty member and one student in the boat with the crates. Keeps the crates safe and gives us a chance to get to know you three. This time let’s make it Pete and Colin.”
     The two moved toward the crate-laden boat.
     “The rest of us in the other boat,” Tom continued, pointing. “It will take us more than an hour to get there. We’ll be travelling slowly, with this load. The scenery is gorgeous so enjoy the ride.”
     "I just can’t imagine this is quicker than driving there,” said Ben.
     Tom grinned. “We’re taking the Maya road, Ben. The Maya didn’t have the wheel but then, they didn’t need it. Rivers never need to be resurfaced, they don’t get potholes and they do a good job of keeping themselves clear without the help of road crews.”
     Tom motioned Maddie, Ben and Joan toward two canopied benches on their boat. Maddie followed closely behind Joan and took a seat next to her. Tom and Ben sat on the other bench.
     Pete and Colin climbed in the other boat and sat behind the captain, who stood at the wheel. As they began to move down the river the wind kicked up and Tom tightened the chin strap on his Tilley hat. Maddie’s straw hat had no strap so she took it off and held it in her lap. The boats made too much noise for conversation so they all sat and watched the scenery roll by.
     The two boats passed a small alligator sunning itself on a log. Snail kites – hawk-like birds that feed on freshwater snails – called out from tree branches and dove dramatically down to the water. The boats passed the Mennonite settlement called Shipyard and the narrow waterway opened up into the broad New River Lagoon. To Maddie it seemed more like a lake than a lagoon. Five miles down the lagoon they pulled over to the dock at Lamanai. A Jeep and pickup truck were waiting for them.
     With the help of the two drivers the team unloaded the crates into the truck and piled the luggage on top. Once again Tom threaded rope across the top of the pile to secure the luggage. Tom had Pete ride in the pickup truck with him while the others wedged themselves into the Jeep, Joan in the front seat next to the driver and the three students in the back. Ben leapt up to position himself between Maddie and Colin.
     They took off down a deeply rutted dirt road that led into the jungle. In about ten minutes they pulled up in front of the Lamanai Outpost Lodge. The rustic wood building nestled in the edge of a clearing, framed by the lacy fronds of tall cohune palms.
     Tom got out of the truck and instructed everyone to retrieve their bags and head into the lodge. He spoke with the young woman at the desk while the others looked around the lodge lobby, which was decorated in a combination of rustic woodsy and tropical exotic. Shortly, Tom turned to the group and passed out room keys, one for each person.
     “Same setup as last night,” he said. “Joan and Maddie in one room, Ben and Colin in one, and Pete and me in one. We’re all in a row down the hall. Find your room, make a pit stop and meet me in the dining room ASAP. We’ll have lunch – the food here is first-rate – then we’ll get busy unpacking those crates.” Everyone groaned. Tom grinned. “I can crack the whip with the best of them. Listen, we have limited time here so let’s use it to our best advantage. We’ll get set up fast this afternoon and have the evening to relax. Let’s get a move on.”
     They hauled their luggage to their rooms. Maddie growled as she watched Colin pull his wheeled bags, neatly stacked together, while she huffed with her load. Ben and Colin jostled to determine who would unlock their door. Maddie followed Joan into the next room down the hall.
     “This is definitely not roughing it,” said Maddie.
     Joan smiled her thin, tight smile. “Well-fed and well-rested archaeologists do better work. You’ll understand in a day or two.”
     Joan washed her face while Maddie sat down to rest in a wicker chair. The room was decorated in a tropical style with bamboo and wicker furniture and plenty of windows. Even the bathroom was well appointed.
     Maddie wasn’t going to bother brushing her hair until she saw her reflection in the mirror. The boat ride had been blustery and she looked like she had been riding a motorcycle at top speed without a helmet. She brushed her hair back smooth, fighting with several stubborn tangles where the wind had tied knots in her hair.
     “Are you ready yet, Maddie?”
     Joan had the door open and made to step out into the hallway. Maddie popped the ponytail holder back in her hair and scampered after her. Colin and Ben were waiting at the front of the dining room. When Tom and Pete showed up the group sat down for lunch.
     Most of the tables in the small dining room were full. Maddie spotted a group of birdwatchers, with their binoculars and bird books at the ready next to their plates. She also noted a family with two young children and a table in a nearby corner that held a single man, apparently a cleric judging by the white collar on his black shirt. The waitress brought their lunch and she turned her attention to the food.
     The team members were all ravenous. For the first ten minutes of the meal the only sound was that of forks clicking on plates. Tom finally came up for air and gave them instructions between bites.
     “We’ll drive over to the site and unload the crates. Joan, I’ll need you to set up the field lab. Pete, I’ll need you to help me mark off the site and put a tarp up over it. You three,” he nodded to the students, “can fetch and carry as we set up. I’m familiar with the area so don’t hesitate to ask if you want to know where something is.”
     “OK,” said Maddie, “Where is Itzamna?”
     “Itzamna isn’t a where, Maddie, it’s a what. Or maybe a who.” Maddie stared blankly at him. “Itzamna is the name of the Maya sky god. He’s covered with stars.”
     Maddie’s eyes widened. “Like the jaguar.”
     “Good connection. The Maya did indeed associate the jaguar with Itzamna, though the two weren’t the same. Like most of their deities, Itzamna was usually represented in human form.”
     “Oh,” said Maddie. “All right.”
     Tom looked over his team. “We don’t have a lot of time here, folks, so let’s keep focused and have a great dig to write up when we’re done.”
     “Dr. Davies,” said Ben, “I understand that we need to get in as much work as possible since this is such a short trip, but working on Christmas day? Why not take Christmas as our free day instead of the last day we’re here – the 29th?”
     “Well, Ben, I figure you’ll want to go sightseeing or shopping on your free day, right?”
     “I guess so.”
     “You have to realize that Belize is not full of 24-hour grocery stores and conveniences on every corner. It’s an old-fashioned country in many ways. Stores still close here on Sundays and sometimes on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons as well. And every last thing is closed not just on Christmas day but also on the twenty-sixth. It’s a British holiday called Boxing Day. So on Christmas day there’s nothing to do but stay home.”
     They finished their meal and Tom went off to find the drivers. Instead, he came back with two sets of keys. He handed one set to Joan.
     “I assume you can drive a stick shift. If you would, please take the Jeep.”
     He motioned to Pete to join him in the pickup truck. Once again the students sat in the Jeep with Joan. They headed out of the clearing down a dirt road that ran straight into the jungle. Within moments all they could see was shady green. The cohune palms towered over the team, their fringed fronds bending across the road in a graceful arch eighty feet above their heads. Maddie heard twitters and cackles and moans from the bush on all sides. In a few minutes they emerged into a clearing to face a huge temple, easily a hundred feet tall. Parts of it were overgrown with moss and vines but parts had been cleared to reveal worn gray stone. Maddie gasped.
     “I feel like I’m trespassing,” she said in a whisper.
     Ben nodded. “Intruding on the past, a thousand years ago.”
     “N10-43,” said Joan. “An awfully utilitarian name for such a monument.”
     “What’s that burning smell?” Maddie asked.
     “I don’t smell anything,” said Colin.
     “It’s like a campfire or incense or something,” she said. “I don’t know. Maybe it smells like pine rosin. Now it’s gone.”

*                   *                   *

     They drove past the temple and down the road for a short distance then came out in the middle of another open area. Tom stopped the pickup near a garage-sized mound and Joan pulled the Jeep up beside the truck. Everyone got out. The clearing was dotted with a few small trees but was wide open in comparison to the jungle they had just come through.
     “Well, what do you think?” said Tom with a sweeping gesture that encompassed the whole area.
     Ben pointed. “Is that mound the object of our excavations?”
     Maddie looked at him. “You make it sound tawdry.”
     “It is,” laughed Tom. “Yes, that’s our bump.”
     Joan circled the area, examining the terrain. “Shall we set up the lab tent over there by the treeline? That way we’ll have more shade in the heat of the day.”
     “Sounds good,” said Tom. “Pete, you want to help me lay out the site?”
     “You bet.”
     Tom went over to the Jeep and retrieved a crowbar from the vehicle’s tire-changing equipment. He pried the lid off the first crate.
     “OK, this is the lab equipment. Let’s pull the truck over to the treeline.”
     Tom hopped in, drove to the edge of the treeline and got out.
     “Well, come on folks, this isn’t a one-man show. Get over here and help me!”
     They snapped out of their midday stupor and scrambled to help Tom. Pete and Ben hefted opposite ends of the crate and Tom gripped the middle. They heaved the crate out of the truck. It landed with a thud on the ground.
     Joan pointed to Ben and Colin. “You two, help me unload the equipment.” Maddie could count on one hand the number of times she had heard Dr. Lancaster say please to a man.
     Tom drove the truck back over to the mound in the center of the clearing. He and Pete got up in the bed of the truck. They shoved the heavy crate toward the open end of the truck bed. Tom pried the lid off the crate and they got busy setting up. Pete helped Tom unroll a large canvas tarp. They began setting it up on tent poles over the mound.
     Maddie stood beside the truck. “Um, Dr. Davies, what should I do?”
     “Start unloading the crate.”
     She stared at the crate. “I’ve never done this before.”
     Tom smiled. “Don’t worry, Maddie, it’s all just common sense. Let’s get everything out of the crates so we can see what we have to work with. Then we’ll decide where it all goes.”
     She nodded and began unloading the smaller items from the crate. She set boxes and bags on the ground between the truck and the mound.
     She hefted a larger box labeled ‘Magnetometer’. Squinting in the afternoon sun she could see Ben and Colin unpacking the lab over by the treeline. She turned back toward the mound and watched Tom connect three tent pole sections and lash a guy line to the top. She plodded up to him.
     “Where do you want this?” she asked.
     “Around the other side,” he said, pointing over the mound.
     “OK.” She whipped around, eager to set down her heavy load.
     “But look out for the –“
     “Youch!”
     “Acacia tree,” he said. “They’re everywhere.”
     She set the box down and examined her forearm. Blood was beading up down the length of a neat three-inch-long gash.
     “Be careful,” Tom said. “The Maya used those thorns to draw blood for sacrifices.”
     “I bet they made a few unintentional sacrifices, too.” She slung the loose droplets of blood to the ground. They landed in the dirt with a series of quiet plops. Suddenly she felt dizzy, nauseous. Her ears buzzed. The ground tilted and she staggered.
     Tom leapt up and caught her by the shoulders. He put the magnetometer box on the ground and sat Maddie down on the edge of it.
     “I’m fine, really.” She shook the cobwebs out of her head and pulled a bandana from her pocket. She looked around for water, saw none, and licked the corner of the bandana before wiping the cut. The blood had already crusted.
     He shook his head. “Our first casualty of the dig. I’ll go get the first aid kit.”
     She glared. “I’m fine,” she insisted. “It’s stopped bleeding. Damn tree.”
     Tom raised his eyebrows. “All right – get back to it. We need to be unpacked and set up before dinner. The real fun starts bright and early tomorrow morning.” He picked up a tent peg, hammered it neatly into the ground and reached for another. Maddie blew out a breath and wadded the bandana back into her pocket. She glared at the box for a moment before hefting it again.
     Ben and Colin lifted boxes out of their crate and stowed them under the folding tables in the lab tent. Maddie ran out of items small enough for her to lift from Tom’s crate so she joined the others at the lab tent.
     “What do we have here?” Joan asked, scrutinizing the collection of boxes.
     Maddie read off the labels. “This one is paint brushes and whisk brooms. There’s one with measuring tapes, rulers, protractors, paper and pencils. Here’s one with magnifying glasses, compasses, tweezers and ice picks. What the heck do we need ice picks for?”
     “Assuming this is a stone structure,” Joan said, “we’ll use them to clean out the joints between the stones without damaging the walls.” She looked around the lab. “Where are the buckets? We’ll need two in the lab tent and two by the mound, full of water for washing hands and tools.”
     It took them a full four hours to get the work area set up to everyone’s satisfaction. Maddie’s stomach was rumbling by the time they got back to the lodge. In time-honored archaeological custom they all showered and changed before dinner.
     After the initial dive into their meal the team members began chatting.
     “I know this is a small country,” said Ben, “but it seems like there’s hardly anyone here. I mean, the countryside is empty.”
     Tom nodded. “Belize is the size of Massachusetts but the total population is only about a quarter million.”
     “There used to be a lot more Maya than that,” said Maddie. “I read that there were a million or more Maya here during the Classic Era.”
     “That’s right,” said Tom. “Only about a tenth of the modern population is Maya but in, say, the year 600 or so the Maya made up the entire populace.”
     “I thought the Maya didn’t die out here at Lamanai.”
     “It just didn’t happen to such an extreme,” Tom explained. “The population here dwindled but didn’t die out completely. Lamanai has the longest continual occupation of just about any Maya city. That’s what makes it so fascinating as a dig site.”
     Maddie narrowed her eyes, thinking. “Let’s see, it was founded in 1500 BCE and there were still Maya living here when the Spanish missionaries got here in the sixteenth century CE. That’s about three thousand years.”
     Joan spoke up. “Thank you, Maddie, for using the Common Era abbreviations for dates rather than BC and AD, which reflect an outdated patriarchal Judeo-Christian bias.” She smiled smugly at Pete.
     “Yes, Dr. Lancaster, I know that’s the proper use among historians,” Maddie said. “The ‘Common Era’ and ‘Before Common Era’ abbreviations are generic. They allow us to discuss dates without having to refer to any particular culture or religion. I’m also careful to use the correct terms when referring to the Maya. The word Mayan refers only to their language. We use the term Maya for everything else.”
     Joan nodded approval.
     “Actually,” said Tom, “you could say that the Maya occupation continues here to the present day. The little village of Indian Church is just a short walk away. Its inhabitants are the descendants of the people who founded Lamanai and lived here all those centuries.”
     Maddie’s eyes widened. “Really? Maya? Here?” She looked around, trying to figure out the way to the village.
     “South about a quarter mile, Maddie,” said Tom, pointing. “If you go the other way you’ll get lost in the ruins. Our dig site is only one of nearly a thousand identified Maya structures, and that’s just in the main two-square-mile area.”
     “You better not get lost in the jungle, Maddie,” said Colin. “You don’t speak Spanish.”
     “Actually, Colin, I took Spanish in high school.”
     Tom waved his hand at them. “This was a British colony, folks. British Honduras, before the name change at independence in 1981. Everyone here learns English in school. You may find some rural Maya who only speak Spanish and their particular Maya dialect, especially near the Guatemala border, but in the larger towns most everyone speaks English.”
     After dinner Pete went back to his room to get some reading done though Maddie suspected he just wanted an excuse to go to bed early, considering how his feet dragged as he went down the hall. The rest of the team wandered around and had a look at the lodge.
     Tom motioned them into the library, a large room off the main hallway. Maddie scanned the shelves of books.
     “Wow, there’s a lot here.” She slid her finger along a shelf, skimming titles. “If we don’t have anything else to do in the evenings I’m going to come in here and read.”
     Tom smiled. “No evening plans, Maddie. But I’m betting you’ll be more interested in sleeping than reading after a few days of hard work at the site.”
     Joan parked herself at a table and began spreading out aerial maps of the ruins and the surrounding area.
     “All right, team,” said Tom, “let’s see what else we can find before we all fall over. A few things have changed since I was here last.”
     He turned toward the door and ran into a woman who was coming into the room. She perched her hands on her hips.
     “Tom Davies, of all the people to find here!”
     Tom’s face turned bright red. He cleared his throat.
     “Shonna, it’s quite a surprise to see you.” He gestured at the students. “We’re here on a university dig.”
     Shonna beamed a smile. “Well, introduce me, Thomas.” She was nearly as tall as Tom, heavy-set but attractive. Her oval face was surrounded by lots of wavy, naturally red hair. Her fair skin contrasted with the shiny red lipstick that graced her full mouth. It matched the red tunic that topped khaki leggings and red espadrilles. A collection of bangle bracelets clacked on one wrist as she gestured to the students.
     Tom forced a smile. “These are the students on the team – Colin Wensley, Ben Kingston and Madeleine Phoenix.” They all smiled. “And this is Joan Lancaster, my colleague from the department.” Joan nodded to Shonna then returned her attention to the map on the table.
     Shonna laughed. “Oh, Honey, you never were any good at this sort of thing.” She sashayed over to the students and shook each one’s hand. Maddie inhaled the strong scent of lavender and patchouli. “I’m Shonna Rollins. Tom will tell you that we’re old friends. Old flames is really more like it,” she winked, “but that’s ancient history.”
     Tom edged toward the door.
     “Tom, tell me, what are you and this marvelous team working on?” Shonna smiled wide enough for Maddie to count all her teeth.
     He cleared his throat. “We’re excavating a small feature in an outlying area, possibly a storage building or maybe a midden.”
     “Oh, how exciting! I’ll have to come visit you and see what you’re doing.” She turned to the students with a conspiratorial air. “I’m here on holiday to do a little research for a book I’m writing. I’m sure Tom will think it’s over the top but my agent thinks it will sell so I’m happy to do it. Tom and I have always been fascinated by ancient Mesoamerican cultures.”
     Tom took the final step to the doorway. “I’ve got a full day’s work tomorrow so I’d better get to bed. I’ll see you around, Shonna.” He disappeared down the hallway.
     Ben smiled at the new arrival. “Ms. Rollins, are you a writer?”
     She waved her hand at him and the bangle bracelets slid back and forth, clacking. “Oh, Honey, call me Shonna. And yes, I’m a writer, though it doesn’t buy the bread and butter. I teach introductory anthropology at St. Leo College. In my spare time I write – non-fiction only – about the startling connections between ancient peoples and ourselves. I’m here doing research on the Maya for a couple weeks before I have to go back home and teach spring semester.”
     “Wow,” said Maddie, “maybe I should read your books.”
     Shonna patted her on the shoulder. “That would please me remarkably, dear girl. But don’t let me keep you. I’m sure you all have serious archaeological things to do. Toodle-oo!”
     She turned and swished out of the room. Colin burst out laughing. Still snickering, he strode out of the library toward his room. Maddie looked at Ben and he shrugged.
     “Who knows who she is?” he said. “We’ll find out eventually, I’m sure. Let’s see the rest of this place before we fall asleep, OK?” He stifled a yawn.
     The two of them walked out of the library, through the lobby and onto the front porch. They stood looking out into the dark. The tiny town of Indian Church had gone to bed. Ben and Maddie were left with only the night sounds of the jungle and the occasional echo of a door shutting somewhere in the lodge. She leaned forward and rested her elbows on the porch railing. He moved next to her and also leaned on the railing.
     “Boy, what a trip,” he said.
     She smiled, her face shadowed in the dim light from the front windows of the lodge. “I like it so far.”
     “You didn’t have to sit in a pickup truck, wedged against Dr. Lancaster the whole way from Belize City to Orange Walk, listening to her inventory everything that’s wrong with men.”
     “Oh God, did she really? I’m sorry. I’ve caught a few comments but not the full spiel.”
     “Not only that but I had to listen to her talk about how great Colin is – for a man, of course – since he’s so enlightened. Apparently he joined the AFA and then sucked up to her, asking her all about how she helped found it.”
     “That sounds like Colin,” said Maddie. “Why does he have to be on this team?”
     “Because he’s Dr. Galloway’s favorite student.”
     Maddie rolled her eyes. “They’re both jerks. You know, I was really worried about having to put up with Colin on this trip but so far he hasn’t done anything too horrible.”
     “Were you expecting something horrible?”
     “Maybe. I don’t know.”
     Ben shook his head. “What could he possibly do that wouldn’t make him look like an idiot? I think he’s got designs on you.”
     “Designs on me? Ick. No way.”
     “I’m glad to hear that.”
     “I just hope everything turns out all right.” She gave him a worried look. “I’m afraid I came here for the wrong reasons.”
     He scooted closer to her. “And what are those reasons?”
     “I had this dream…”
     “Yes?”
     “And I thought, maybe I’m destined to come here like my great-grandfather did.”
     He gave her a puzzled look. “Your great-grandfather came to Belize?”
     “Actually, I think it was the Yucatan, but it was Maya country anyway.”
     “That must have been ages ago, when a lot of it was still unexplored.”
     She nodded. “He was an adventurer. He brought a Maya woman back from one of his journeys. His wife.”
     Ben gasped. “Your great-grandmother was Maya?”
     She looked down at her feet. “It’s my family’s skeleton in the closet, that he married a wild Indian, as my mom calls her.”
     “That’s why you never told me – your family’s ashamed?”
     She shrugged. “I never thought much about her until this trip came up. She died before I was born.”
     They gazed out into the jungle, listening to the hypnotic nightnoise. Maddie turned back toward the lodge.
     “We’d better get to bed. They’re going to work us like crazy tomorrow.”
     “Yeah.”
     They walked back inside. Ben reached for the doorknob to his room.
     “Well, good night.” He grinned and blushed.
     “See you in the morning.”
     He stood and watched as she went in and closed the door.