The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Las Cabezas de Muerte – Chapter 11
'Is all the fun about to start then?' Maddy walks excitedly towards the big conference hall.
'Looks like it,' says Diana with a flash of a grin. 'Any chance of distracting Jason and Tony?' she asks with a nod to Ben and Corrin.
'Got an idea?' asks Ben.
'Just a little sabotage.'
Maddy's eyes light up and she gives Diana a very impressed look. 'Cool,' she scrabbles in her bag.
'Could you go see what's going on with Brett?' Corrin suggests to Red. He strides off.
'So Jason, what's the situ?' says Ben with a long look at his watch.
'Jeez. I dunno. They can't get anything right in this country. You give 'em the simple task of putting a few skulls in the same room, getting their heads together, and now we have a hold-up.'
'Is it not going to be ready by midday?' asks Corrin, again with played up concern.
'As far as I'm concerned we can just alter the clocks in the background but Jaime seemed to think it mattered.'
'Well it doesn't look like he's doing much.'
Jaime is sat against the window with his skull in his hands. He has his back to everyone in the room but seems to sit up and wait when anyone approaches. Occasionally he nods or mutters something. Giles has adopted a similar pose and has managed to look slightly more dramatic, if a lot less convincing or earnest.
'Guess I'll go ask the weirdo.'
Ben nods at Corrin. 'One down,' she whispers and turns away to Tony. Behind him Maddy has a collection of pointy metal objects and is levering at a switching box. Diana is idly eyeing up the main camera.
'Jason reckoned we ought to go see what's going on, Jaime ought to know.'
She walks off with him, to where Jason approaches the small Mexican. Jaime stands up to greet him, he looks focussed and speaks quickly without his characteristic hand gestures.
'So how long for?' asks Jason.
'I don't know. It depends on your FBI,' each letter is pronounced carefully but in the Mexican way. 'They muttered about total cancellation, but we both know that mustn't happen.'
'Absolutely. I guess a delay will be alright then. Where are the FBI guys, and Darling?'
'First priority is to get the celeb out of the firing line,' says Tony. 'The rest of us will probably be notified in half an hour or so.'
Jaime gives a slight laugh. 'I'd give it ten minutes.'
'Why?' asks Corrin, who he looks at suspiciously as if suddenly noticing her.
'The bomb is for midday.'
'Jeez, that's like...' Jason and Tony scrabble for watches and Jaime walks away.
'I have things to organise. I will see you at half past the hour. Unless there is a bomb,' Jaime smiles slightly, obviously certain there will be no explosion, just a delay.
Corrin turns back to glance at Diana, who smiles. Maddy waves and gives a large wink. Corrin walks over quickly - 'I'm going to follow Jaime, see you guys in a bit, OK?'
'Take the phone,' says Ben quickly composing himself for Jason and Tony's return.
Red follows the FBI men as they bustle Darling into a car which sped away. Then they turned back and had a quick conversation with hotel security. Various people start to rush around and the FBI men seem to be briefing others through their radios. Now they are coming back into the conference hall. Red follows and leans against the heavy double doors. Jason's voice rings out on the microphone.
'Probably nothing, but there has been a warning so I suppose we ought to delay. Obviously not much time.'
The men in suits are gesturing they'll take over as they walk towards Jason but he seems to like the attention.
'Just how much time is obviously difficult to say, but in the ballpark region of, roughly,' he makes a big show of looking at his watch. '7 minutes and 11 seconds.'
He jumps down from the podium as people start murmuring, and then talking and moving. The FBI men take a moment to switch the mike back on, but then begin to direct people. No-one is listening, being either to unbelieving to care significantly or too believing to listen to anything other than their own instinct for flight.
The SITU members hang back for a moment, looking for an opportunity to grab a skull, but they are all claimed and removed with their owners. The FBI men hurry them out and as Diana looks back, she sees them start to overturn seats, starting with Darling's.
Damien comes downstairs to meet up with the others. He clutches his laptop and a small modem. He bumps into Maddy, Ben, Diana and Red as they walk through the lobby, along with hundreds of others.
He pushes his way towards them. 'Where are Lawrence, and Corrin, oh and George of course - he is alright isn't he?'
'Fine, fine.' says Diana. 'They're outside, George was a little tired and Lawrence acted all shocked about our plans.'
Diana glances round at the people around and says 'hang on.' A few seconds later they are outside and she peels away from the throng of people. 'He got all uppity about stealing skulls - heinous error to gain such items through illegal means. He said he'd rather do a Faust than contravene the fine laws of this country. Or something.'
Lawrence had waited patiently outside with George but went to intercept the Willoughbys. George said he needed some Marlboro 'like you wouldn't believe. But he'd stay out in the open and make sure he was OK.'
Lawrence nodded an acknowledgement and composed himself for the couple he'd heard such stories of. Preparing himself for their ill breeding he begins; 'Good afternoon. Absolutely splendid day is it not?' They look surprised, but impressed by the accent and air of wealth Lawrence projects.
'Hello,' says Elsa timidly.
'Oh, forgive me! I should of course introduce myself. My name is Lawrence Saint-John and I wish to converse with you regarding an item currently in your possession.' He looks down at the skull she clutches, and across to the one Martin has. They follow his eyes.
Martin speaks, 'The skulls?'
'Exquisite artifacts. But of little worth to you I'm sure. On the other hand they are of immense value to myself and I am willing to purchase them from you at almost any price.'
Elsa looks impressed, Martin a little suspicious. Another of the skull owners is looking over, and wanders their way.
'Let us be honest with one another. I possess a vast amount of wealth. A vast amount. It is more than likely that I could provide you with whatever it is that you wish. Possibly more if I am feeling generous.'
Martin looks over at the approaching woman and holds up a hand for Lawrence to pause. 'Yes?' he asks.
'Oh, I just wondered what you were up to. Rogier is going on about his pet theories again, and Giles is encouraging him. The man should have more sense.'
'Oh well. Never mind,' says Elsa.
'Well, you two have always been a haven of sanity - not taking these wild claims seriously and getting all worked up.'
'Now now,' says Martin glancing at Lawrence and trying to shield him from the woman's scepticism. 'Let's not be too hasty, eh?'
'We're really quite busy,' continues Elsa. 'Could we meet up in a moment?'
'Where were we?' asks Martin once she's gone.
'I believe I was making a ridiculously generous offer to purchase the two artifacts, name your price. My duration is short here and I require an answer immediately. I am not prepared to ask again.'
Martin looks at Elsa and she looks back. He whispers into her ear but she shakes her head. Looking Lawrence in the eye she says, trying to keep her voice normal, 'Twenty-five thousand pounds. For the pair.'
Martin looks more shocked than Lawrence who nods. 'A sum that will change your lives, but a mere pittance to a man like myself I assure you. I shall have to contact my broker - could I have bank details. I shall collect the skulls from you after the completion of the ceremony.'
Martin says a quick, 'need to get a drink,' so Elsa takes care of the details, which are concluded to mutual satisfaction.
Corrin has followed Jaime, he by scooter, her by taxi, to the church in the middle of town. He is easily followed as he travels in a convoy with about a dozen other scooters. A woman and a couple of men in a car also head that way. Corrin expects them to unlock the church, and so nips into the bar. Instead they head her way and through the bar, with muttered words and nods at the few people inside. She orders a Coke and takes the bottle outside, wandering around the church idly. After a few minutes a stream of people headed by Jaime, whose eye she avoids, go into the dark church. Corrin tries to peer through the window, but sees only her own reflection peering back.
There is the sound of chanting and after only about ten minutes it stops abruptly. Corrin waits for them to leave, and notices another man also waiting, a thin Mexican with shining bald head. The large woman leaves first, wearing a shapeless black dress and large quantities of silver jewellery, a necklace of small skulls hangs around her neck. Until she can stop herself Corrin wonders if they're from cats or even babies.
The man rushes over and she hears the word 'George,' each letter pronounced. She points back at the church, he nods and they both go inside. Corrin decides to check up on the others as she waits, the phone rings four times in Damien's room, but then she hears the little click and ticking noise of the RF scanner being used.
'Don't know if you can hear this, but it's Corrin. I'm at the church, seems to be a bit of kerfuffle about George. Hope everything's OK. I'll be back soon.'
Damien removes the ear piece. 'Yeah, it was Corrin. They might have spotted you George.'
'OK, I think I'd better keep my head down, I don't want a knife in the back.'
Diana shudders but Maddy echoes her thoughts with, 'Finish the story, finish the story.'
'OK. It's all kind of hazy down there - water constantly rushing past, and occasionally someone would come in and give me something slightly soggy to eat. I've got no idea of time though, really.'
'Mmm... I have times like that,' says Maddy. 'When I know time's going by but I can't work out how fast... I s'pose it's just the implant.'
'What do they use the underground room for?' asks Damien.
'Well, Jaime was often down there. Usually talking to some woman with a weird voice. I never heard her except with him, but I think they had some weird thing going, like she'd do drugs and get a vision, and he'd interpret or something like that. And before you guys came there was this, this sacrifice thing I guess - the guy on the altar. I heard them all getting worked up and then this guy whimpering and shouting and then screaming. It was really gruesome, that's when I got really scared I guess, so cheers, and that.'
At half-past there is a small commotion and then quiet as the manager of the Merida Sheraton speaks from the top of the steps, first in English, then Spanish.
'The building is safe. Many thanks for your cooperation. The conference hall is to be reopened, and all normal facilities resume. Once again we apologise for the inconvenience.'
The SITU team start to filter back in and Damien nods to Red. He responds with a nod and 'I'll take care of it,' before moving over to the reception side of the stream of people. 'He'll do the manual, then I can use the computer switch.' Damien stops at one of the small phone booths and starts to plug his computer in. In about a minute he's finished and rejoined the others.
'OK, we have 4 minutes 49 seconds before...'
'...the fun starts again?' finishes Maddy.
Ben makes sure the TV crew don't examine their equipment casings too carefully, directing them instead at the changes in lighting and positions. To him the slight cracks at the joins are obvious but the crew are oblivious for the present. Jason is pacing. 'Half past he said he'd be back. If he's backed out we're still stuffed. Game over man, game over.'
'Calm down Jason.' Paula sounds like a mother scolding a child but it isn't working.
'I got a bad feeling about this, as everyone in Star Wars would say.'
Corrin is with them and soon afterwards Jaime sweeps in, holding his skull in front of him reverentially. With not a word of introduction he sweeps onto the dais and everyone falls quiet. The doors give a resounding clang as they shut and Jaime takes this as his cue.
'People of the earth, let us honour the sea from whence we came. We who are mortal, let us honour the immortal from whom we were created. These skulls - older than we, younger than they serve as a bridging point, and at last they are reunited. We here have come from near and far to bring the artifacts back home and now they may be claimed by their creator, their owner, their mother.'
Jaime's skull has begun to glow and of the eleven skulls in the circle three begin to glow noticeably - those in front of Jouke, Darling and, to Elsa's annoyance, Martin Willoughby. All of the team are caught in the mesmerising sight as the lights slowly lower, a single spot picking out Jaime.
'Ahuantapec, the great Sea Mother, and all who honour your name be thankful that this has been achieved.'
At a wave from Jason the spotlight on Jaime is cut, and he is lit merely by the eerie glow of the skull he holds aloft.
'The resonance of the skulls is a resonance between them, and between them and us, and between them and her. I feel its power building.'
Damien taps Ben on the shoulder and he looks round, Damien taps his wrist to indicate his watch and holds up five fingers which he counts down in seconds. As his thumb closes down to form a fist emergency red lights turn on in the corners of the room, a wailing siren sounds throughout the room and with a sudden flash of something like, but not quite like, light the room seems to shudder and several of the skulls explode.
Everyone is disoriented for a second as the siren continues, Jaime looks reverential and exultant and the sprinklers begin spraying water down on the ceremony. Maddy is amongst the first to recover - the effect was just like a trip lasting a few seconds and she's used to come-downs. Jaime is directing his skull at a point in the wall and it grows darker and darker until a black patch has formed. In the patch there are two glowing lights, which are revealed as the eye sockets of a jet black skull carried by the woman in black with the silver and the skulls. She sweeps in and holds up her jet black skull.
Maddy checks on the other SITU members, only Lawrence seems to be in difficulty and Diana is leaning over to help him up. They all have this strangely vacant expression though, but never mind. Maddy looks down at the skulls - only three of the circle remain - Ed, Tezcatlipoca and Troilus. Jaime is directing his attention, and his skull at another point in the wall. The woman is chanting and moving towards Tezcatlipoca with her skull focused on it.
Maddy scampers forward to try to grab Ed, Jouke being unconscious, but as she closes the distance the woman shrieks at her and Maddy is brought up sharp. The skull Tezcatlipoca is being pointed at her and a pain begins behind her temples. Maddy begins to feel woozy and decides to give in rather than fight.
Diana shakes her head back into being awake just in time to see Maddy's body slump forwards and down. One of her hands reaches out to touch Ed, which then bathes her in a soft green light for a few seconds. Diana shakes her head again, she ought to stop seeing things. It is then she notices the dancing figures streaming in through holes in the walls. There are five of the holes and several men dancing in, chewing peyote and occasionally chanting. Jaime looks pleased as the woman gathers the remaining skulls and they hold the four in a square all facing inwards. The five black skulls are being danced with, in a pentacle outside the square.
People are starting to wake properly now, and most are looking terrified. Someone heads for the door, but it won't open. The four FBI men have guns out and are trying to make themselves heard above the sound of the sprinklers and the shrieks of the worshippers. One of them fires a shot into the air at random and people look even more terrified as it ricochets back down. He grabs Darling and heads for the door.
Corrin is standing by Jason, he's half mad, half gleeful as the cameras continue to take in film. She notices water running in and the odd little spark, but only time will tell if the scenes are being captured properly. The FBI man has shot out the lock of the door and swings it wide open. Light streams in, as do about twenty more of the peyote-chewing worshippers.
The room begins to fill with a strange-smelling smoke and all but the skull worshippers leave, spluttering to the lobby. Various people are demanding action from the hotel, but no-one seems willing to approach what was the main conference hall until things have quietened down. The sprinklers are shut down eventually and the alarm subsides. The SITU team meet up, and try to take stock. Maddy claims to be fine, but 'a little wobbly, y'know.'
'I think we ought to head back,' says Damien. 'This place really doesn't seem safe.'
Indeed the SITU people are about the last remaining in the lobby as a battered fire engine pulls up outside. As they leave the operatives see a number of the peyote-chewing worshippers are outside, in a loose ring around the building. Quite a crowd has gathered to see what goes on and Ben decides to wait and watch with them. 'I guess we can check out the inside once things have calmed down.'
Back at the Esplendido all is relatively quiet. Everyone feels tired and drained by the ritual, and they sit down in Damien's room to recuperate. Corrin goes to get some drinks and Ben phones as planned with stories of a march of the worshippers back to the church with the skulls paraded away. The hotel is to be sealed off for a while. Apparently Jason is furious about the quality of the film - 'it's going to look like we faked the whole thing - some sort of Loch Ness monster picture thing. Darling's been hustled away, Jaime's off with his cronies.' Tony's comment is 'Bloody useless this country, bloody useless.'
Diana goes out of the hotel and finds Mahmoud. 'Could we get that skull back from you? Thanks for looking after it.'
'Of course, you have been very good to me. How did things go?'
'Interesting. Oh, I need to pay your friends at the Sheraton, but I'll have to do it later, the whole place has gone haywire.'
'Err.. crazy, weird. These skulls are very odd, and dangerous.'
Mahmoud shrinks back from the one she's holding. 'I'm not sure I believe what they say,' he say guardedly.
'I wasn't sure I did,' Diana replies with a sigh. 'Anyway, if your friend's come looking for us, say we'll get them the money soon enough. Oh and thank them, I guess.'
'OK. Anything else I can do? You need anything else doing, just ask Mahmoud.'
'It's OK. I think things have calmed down.'
'Oh, one thing you might want to know. The guy with the gun outside. He's not here anymore. He went inside about, half hour ago. I don't think he's left.'
Ben comes round the corner and approaches. He reacts to the news with a look of worry and suggests they go back inside. 'The moped of the Cuervo Cojaente guy who came in before is outside.'
He asks to speak to Arsenio and is told he is 'seeing a visitor in his office, but will be out presently.'
'I really ought to take this upstairs,' Diana says, holding the black rucksack with the skull inside.
Location: Hotel Esplendido, Lobby and Damien's room
Time: 1:35 PM 28th November
Lawrence: You tell Maddy how you feel before the ceremony gets under way for the second time. She shrugs rather insultingly, and looks a little hurt whenever your eyes meet.
Maddy: Lawrence approaches you while the hotel's being searched for the bomb. 'Miss Hook, I would be most appreciative if you could cease your precarious attitude to our current assignment. Your incessant need to consume various unsavoury liquids and substances has not gone unnoticed. I am indeed most anguished that a minor, such as yourself, could become one of the many misplaced members of society. However, this in no way excuses you for endangering the rest of us by your bovine actions!'
You shrug and pick his pocket a few minutes later. Beneath a handkerchief and a pair of spectacles is a small metal pentagram with the Illuminati symbol of an eye in the pyramid engraved in the middle. The pupil is a red stone, probably ruby. You replace it a couple of minutes later. He doesn't seem to notice at all, but Ben might have seen you putting it back.