LAND OF THE MAYA: PRESENT DAY
From a high escarpment just below the cliff’s rim, Cooper Jones studied her team resting on the trail below: Rita “Reets” Critchlow—a fellow archeolinguist—flanked by Hargrave and Jamesy. All three wore dusty fatigues, camouflage T-shirts with the sleeves cut off, heavy boots, and sweat-stained dirty-white baseball caps. Reets’ and Coop’s caps bore the Diablos Rojos del México’s team logo, while Jamesy’s and Hargrave’s caps rooted for the Leones de Yucatán.
Mexico City Red Devils and Yucatán Lions, Coop thought grimly. Right now I feel more like a heat-sick Gila monster.
No shade protected them from the blistering sun, and Jamesy was pulling his shirt off. Both men’s bodies were graphic studies in macabre violence—specifically, knife and gunshot wounds—but Jamesy’s chest and back scars were an unnervingly turned-out oeuvre. The first time she stumbled on him bathing in a stream with his shirt off—and had seen the knife slash diagonally traversing his chest, the barely healed bullet hole entering and exiting his broad right shoulder, and the wide white stripes of some long-forgotten prison hellhole disfiguring his back—she’d understood the kind of men he and Hargrave were.
Not that she’d needed scars to garner that insight. Their eyes said everything—eyes that neither asked nor gave, and stares hard enough to crack concrete.
“Eyes that diced at the foot of the cross,” she’d once told Reets.
“And slogged the long road back from Stalin grad,” Reets had said.
“Hard enough to crack concrete,” Coop had concluded.
Then, of course, there were the mirthless grins that never reached those eyes.
Men she and Reets now trusted with their lives.
… Reets had summed up their situation two nights before:
“We’re hunted by the most sadistic, pistol-whipping, water-boarding mercenaries north of the Rio; by Mexico’s most sadistic, gonad-electrocuting, mordida-stealing, child-pimping federales; by the most sadistic, prodigiously powerful drug cartel in two continents—the Apachureros.”
“You mean we’re hunted by… sadists?” Hargrave asked.
“No,” Reets said, “cloistered nuns.”
“We’re not in some kind of trouble, are we?” Jamesy asked.
“Not unless you call drawing and quartering, hot coals and knives, followed by death of a thousand cuts … trouble.” Reets replied.
“They have their side of it,” Hargrave countered.
Reets nodded her assent. “After all, we’ve stolen some of their homeland’s most historically important, preposterously priceless relics.”
“The ‘2012 Apocalyptic Codices,’ as our intrepid president describes them,” Hargrave said. “You can understand why they want them back and us dead?”
“I blame the president,” Jamesy said. “Some hijo de puta on his staff’s ratting us out.”
“Telling the Apachureros, what those codices are worth and where to find us,” Hargrave said.
“Codices we now control,” Coop said.
“And which our bandit buddies want,” Jamesy said.
“There’s also those dozen or so of their bullet-riddled friends we so carelessly left on our back-trail,” Hargrave threw in.
“Someone in Washington put a bounty on us,” Jamesy said coldly.
“Those Pach want us muy malo,” Hargrave said.
“So they can steal the stuff we stole,” Reets said….
… Well, onward and upward, Cooper Jones thought. At the top of the jungle-shrouded cliff waited a man who she hoped had the last of the Quetzalcoatl codices.
The inestimable Jack Phoenix.
The bravest, cleverest, most outrageous archeologist the gods ever made—his detractors often added psychopathic to those adjectives—Jack Phoenix was also one of Coop’s and Reets’ two closest friends.
“One of our two only friends,” Reets once remarked after eight tequila shooters.
They’d begun pooling resources almost a decade ago and they now trusted him with their most confidential findings. Through a covert communications network of seemingly innocuous weblogs, they passed information critical to their work and careers—so much so, they encrypted their e-mails to keep other archeologists from ripping off their findings.
Phoenix typically sought her and Reets’ help in translating indecipherable pre-Columbian glyphs, knowing that Coop, in particular, was preeminently, almost preternaturally gifted in such linguistics. In exchange, he passed data on to them, describing unpublicized digs and sites, which he himself had often uncovered but kept secret.
His last posts contained information that had shaken them to their souls.
At his Chiapas meeting place—an unexplored site deep in Apachurero country—he believed they’d find their missing codex.
Coop allowed herself another quiet sigh. Working her way up to the cliff’s rim, she pulled herself up over the boulder-strewn, outwardly jutting cliff top. Crawling over rocks, through brush, over fallen trees toward the ruin, she surveyed the terrain, looking for intruders.
Until a blast of harsh laughter stopped her.
Hiding behind a log, she spotted the source—a group of raucously drunken bandits.
She counted at least ten of them.
Grizzled inebriated Apachureros in phony federales uniforms, they were armed to the teeth with automatic weapons and pointing at Jack Phoenix’s partially excavated temple.
Waiting for Jack Phoenix to emerge from the subterranean tunnel entrance he had written them about.
Waiting for their friend.
Excerpted from The 2012 Codex by Gary Jennings.
Copyright © 2010 by Gary Jennings.
Published in September 2010 by A Tom Doherty Associates Book.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.