The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Hour of the Jaguar
3pm, Monday 14th September 1998
The lobby of the hotel is open and refreshing, as the array of large fans on the ceiling provide a welcome breeze. Having shepherded the group up the steps, Arsenio snaps his fingers at a young man reclining in a corner and luggage is slowly ferried towards the central staircase. Maria glances around her charges, eager for a response.
"A little cliff diving? Yes, I'd love to, but not today. Tomorrow, maybe?" Joanna is the first to speak.
"Sure, I wouldn't want to miss out on anything!" joins in Sean.
Rupert grins and nods his head. "I don't mind what we do old chaps, so long as it's fun!"
The smile on Maria's face widens with genuine delight. "That's really great. Wonderful. I mean... you'll love it, honestly. Umm. Tomorrow then? Morning? I'll see you then, give you time to get a bite to eat, have a think about what you'd like to do, you know..." She bobs her head enthusiastically, "Tomorrow then. Great" and then wanders off towards the bar.
"I think we ought to get cracking straight away", says Major Hardy. "Camouflage sightseeing withstanding, of course."
"Yes, let's, but after we unpack?" Karyn suggests.
"I'm going to go and sort out my room. See you fellows in a while" replies Rupert, drifting off towards the stairs. Sean follows him. The others call Professor Lazla to arrange an appointment later that afternoon, and then get themselves settled in.
A small gold plaque is the only clue as to the front doorway of the Yucatan Institute of Archaeology, which sits unobtrusively next to the local museum. Karyn rings the bell, and a few moments later footsteps shuffle over to answer.
"Ah, yes, yes. You must be, er..., let me think, you must be Professors Robyns and Tuttle, yes? Umm."
Bespectacled eyes cast a confused gaze over the seven people standing in the road.
"Yes, erm.., well, that is, I dare say, umm..." Ramon Lazla runs a hand through his greying hair and scratches his head. "You're all friends of, umm.., Martin, er.., are you? Very well, very well, that is, I mean, I'm happy to talk, you know, more than happy, yes. You'd better come up." He potters up some stairs, fetches some keys from the drawer of a desk flowing with paper, and unlocks a side entrance into the museum itself.
"Talk in here, eh, if you like? Closed, of course, closes at four, yes. Well, what do you want to know. I'm a Spaniards man myself, really, conquistadors and such, eh?" He raises his eyebrows expectantly. The museum itself is surprisingly small, with just four rooms of exhibits. Glass cabinets line most walls, with a few words in Spanish and English written on crudely typed cards.
"Actually, we're here to talk about the robberies." Sean takes a direct approach.
"And local culture!" objects Arabella, somewhat surprised, but the Professor does not seem at all shocked.
"Oh yes, yes, so Martin said. Haven't had one for a few days, touch wood. Not since that business at Uxmal. No idea what you people can do about it. Hopeless, really. Police just don't have a clue. But, well, the more hands, the more helpers, the, er..." he trails off.
Karyn wanders off between the rooms. There's a Mayan room, full of pots, statuettes, and pipes. Next along a suit of Spanish plate armour dominates the display, along with swords, pikes and muskets. The third room is dedicated to the Zapotec peoples, whom the cards say lived in the Yucatan before the rise of Mayan civilization. Lastly, though, there is a bare room full of empty display cases.
"Anyway" Lazla is getting back into his stride. "The first theft was actually the lovely Cukulcan statuette from poor Miss Lloyd. In her hotel, you know. Then there was a golden bowl, well, gold leaf, taken from Itzamal - just to the east of here. On display in their library, that was. Not one of ours. Down near Playa del Carmen, there's the remains of a Mayan port, and there was a bit of a dig going on. Somebody went through the stores of that at night - just ransacked some of the tents - smashed no end of pottery. Dr. Hernandez hadn't finished cataloguing his finds, so we've no real clue about it all, but I'd expect something went walkabout, you know. Then what? Let's see. Another statuette, from up north we think, that was on display in Mayapan Museum. They smashed in through the windows at night. Terrible mess. Police took about ten minutes to turn up and by then everything was too late. Umm. And the calendar wheel, of course. That must have taken a bit of lifting, I expect it weighs 100 kilos. At least. But no more since then. Thank goodness."
"Any significance as to the dates the items were taken?" asks Sean, who has been scribbling all this down. George's pencil is working furiously as well.
"Umm...er...significance? Dates?" queries Lazla.
"What about a connection between the items, you must have wondered about that?" The question comes from Arabella.
"I really don't know. Let's see. Umm. They're all Mayan stuff, but it's not all of the same era. The little onyx statuette is of the god Cukulcan, who sometimes manifested as a winged serpent. It's quite late, maybe even 1400. The bowl is just a bowl, really. I could only guess as to its function, not having seen it. Maybe for a king's dinner? Expensive thing. The other statuette's the funny thing. Don't know much about it, but Dr Hernandez found it at Chichen Itza. I think. I remember him saying something about it being the wrong style, or something."
"Hey!" comes Rupert's shout across the room. "Anyone fancy fencing with some of these old bones? I'll take the left femur and you take the right."
"Please!" says Travis disapprovingly.
"All right, all right, just looking around," replies Rupert, who wanders off to the next display.
Sean tuts to himself and glances at Jo as he suppresses a yawn. Lazla isn't quite the sharpest of people, it would seem.
"What about the locals, Professor? How do modern-day Mayans view their culture?" asks Travis.
"Modern-day Mayans did you say? Oh no. No no no. You see, nine out of every ten of them died of disease when the Spaniards came over. And then there's interbreeding and such. And their cities had all collapsed already, you know, before old Cortes did his stuff. No no no. Very few Mayans still around. Just a few. There's the odd commune of them here and there, but nothing to speak of anymore."
Rupert returns and taps Jo and Sean on the shoulder.
"This place is just like my father's drawing room, you know. Dull and dusty as anything, too. I thought I'd go for a little wander round the town, you know, outside the tourist traps. How would you two like to come on a fact-finding mission?" He gives a meaningful look. "With the areas I plan to visit, you couldn't really take your granny! But then neither of you are my granny... I hope!"
"I was going to wander down there myself" reveals Sean, "but I suppose we can go together."
"I'm up for it." says Jo. "Let's get out of here."
Major Hardy nods to them as they leave, but the others are too involved in conversation to notice.
Out on the street, the dusky light has taken the humid weight out of the air. Rupert, Joanna and Sean walk leisurely past the tan plastered buildings and away from the centre of town. As the blocks pass, the buildings get smaller and the pavements become poorly swept. Brash music strikes out from a bar, below a neon sign flashing the word "Corona".
"There?" asks Jo. Sean nods, and pats the left side of his chest. Jo looks suspiciously at his jacket. Rupert pats each of them on the back.
"Guess so. Let's see what they know."
Smoke hangs in the air, swirling from an array of cigarettes and cigars. From a single crude speaker a woman is singing in Spanish with a tinny backing of pop guitar and synthesizer. Faces turn to stare as gringos walk up to the bar, eyes resting on Jo, then return to their smoking and drinking.
"Senors?" growls the barman from behind a stubbled jawline.
"Three beers" says Sean, and gets a nod in return. "And a little information?"
"Que? What you want?"
Sean already seems to have a 100 peso note ready, and presses it into his hand.
"For the beers. Keep the change. Who round here would know about robberies?"
"The Cuervo Cojente" comes the terse reply.
A greasy forefinger is pushed in the direction of the dimly lit far corner, in which a short, squat man is drinking spirits alone. He takes a cigar butt from his mouth and crushes it under his boot, all the while staring directly at the foreigners. As they approach his table, he leans back and wipes his moustache.
"What the 'ell you want?" comes a thick accent.
"Cuervo?" asks Jo. The man frowns.
"Pedro. Who wants to know?"
Sean glances casually around; no-one seems to be paying any attention. Rupert leans forward, undaunted.
"It's OK. We're friends. Lovely town of yours, this, eh?"
"Very friendly, the people, yes, despite the police presence."
From underneath dark eyebrows, the man stares hard across his tequila.
"Look, down to business, old fellow" continues Rupert, undaunted. "I am here representing an organisation who would pay very well for any information concerning the recent thefts of archaeological artefacts."
"Que? Which organisation? Who are you?"
"Look, of course old chap, we have no legal interest in this, and we don't want to punish anyone. Just talk to those responsible, for our own information."
"No way, senor. You mad."
"And we ARE willing to pay."
"That's 50 pounds" whispers Jo, as the notes are piled onto the table.
"OK, senors. You mean stealings of, what word, um, old things, yes? I don't know who, but ees not make sense. I read in paper, yes. I think I know who steals, if there is stealings, but this thing, this I don't know. I know police say Zapatistas do it. Zapatistas are crazy anyhow, so maybe ees true. Police no know shit, though."
"More?" asks Jo, her hand resting gently on the money. Pedro shrugs.
"I know, like, Zapas are all doing things here all now, and not before now as much. I no know why. Zapas don't need why. But police, they follow Zapas so now we have lot of police." He spits to his right, then downs his tequila. "I tell you one thing. You ever want know thing, come to Pedro." A hand starts sweeping up crisp note after note, and he counts slowly under his breath. "But now, now I stop talking. And you go home." He stands, picks a hat from the floor, adjusts his poncho, and swaggers towards the street.
"What a rip off" says Joanna. "Let's go."
The trio turn and wind back through the tables towards the street. Eyes follow them all the way, especially those of a young local woman leant up against the bar, her long black hair tied tightly back behind her head. With rather fine features, and what looks like a little lipstick, she's clearly out of place in this bar. She exchanges a few fluent words of Spanish with the barman and smiles. The barman looks at his foreign customers, looks back at her, and shrugs.
"We're going to be late. Let's go" repeats Jo.
Back at the museum, Professor Lazla is disappointing his guests.
"You see, my dear..." he is talking to Arabella,"I really am a post, um, conquest man myself." He glances at an ornate pistol in the cabinet next to him. "I, um, can give you a brief rundown of the history, but a good book is your best bet. I expect Dr. Hernandez is your man if you're interested in the Mayans. He's out at Playa del Carmen still, you know, but he'd welcome academic, um, guests, um. I could give you a number?"
"That would be excellent, thank you" states Major Hardy, "There's a couple more questions I have about the thefts, though. What kind of security did you have at the dig, and in Uxmal and Mayapan?"
"Not much, I'm afraid. The Governor doesn't care that much for the past, and we just don't have enough money to afford precautions. The police are too busy with their terrorist hunting, anyhow, and they don't think the odd pot is worthy of their attentions. It's the tourist season and all, so closing the sites is out of the question, it would lose us the few funds we have. Not that we can, without the Governor's permission. Ah well. There's been nothing for three days now. Maybe it's over."
"Let's hope so" reassures Arabella. "It's been lovely talking with you, maybe we can have another talk some other time?"
"Hang on a moment", interjects Karyn. "What's the empty room for?"
"Oh, yes, that's going to be our second Mayan room. We're just setting up a new display tomorrow morning, but we'll be open again in the afternoon. You should come and see it."
"What do you plan to display?" inquires Travis.
"Mayan weaponry, mainly, and a couple of replica costumes we've had made up."
Everyone nods, nobody speaks, then the moment of silence is broken by George.
"Could we have that phone number before we leave? Thank you ever so much for your time."
"Of course" comes the reply. "Let's just see where I, umm, put it..."
Jo, Sean and Rupert arrive back at the Hotel Esplendido just in time for everyone to have dinner together. Over the meal, Arabella and Travis discuss local myths.
"As far as I can remember" says Travis "there are three central divinities that the Mayan respected in this area. There's Claloc, who was the god of rain and harvests. Then there's Tezcatlipoca, which means 'smoking mirror'."
"His name's cropped up in the book I bought," interjects Arabella, "as the god of the night."
"Yes. The third god, of course, is Cukulcan, who seems to have been a god of leadership and war."
"Very little is actually known about these religions, though, because the Spanish destroyed any records of them they found. This" Arabella holds up her small paperback "says it's the only text to survive, because it was copied down by a Spanish friar with a conscience. Everything else is just conjecture. It's not particularly useful yet, though, as far as I can tell."
Leaning back in his seat, Sean waves over one of the hotel staff.
"Excuse me. I'd like a phone line that I can use to connect to the Internet please. Any phone line will do."
"Er... I'm sorry, senor, Senor Vizcaya is not here right now. You'll have to talk to him about that tomorrow, but he leaves around six."
"Damn. I was hoping to talk to him tonight as well. Ah well. Tell him I'm looking for him."
Sean turns back to the table. "Just thought we might get a little info that way. Maybe later."
"Talking of things we need to find out, I'd quite like to know a bit more about our guide, Maria," comments George. "Perhaps we can have a bit of a chat when you younger fellows go cliff diving tomorrow. At the very least, she can tell us a bit more about the area."
"Yeah, I'd like some time to read, actually" announces Arabella. "We need to know more about the local legends."
"I think we should also get to know one another, now that we're going to be spending some time together." But George's suggestion falls on tired ears.
"I'm completely whacked, and I need to get my body clock sorted out," points out Karyn. "I agree with you, but not right this minute. Let's get some sleep, then we can decide who's going where in the morning."
"I don't think I'm quite the cliff type" murmurs Travis.
"Yeah, but everything's worth a try once" enthuses Rupert.
The next morning, Maria is as chirpy as ever, waiting in the lobby.
"Hi there. Great day for it, guys, good sun and not much wind. Are you all coming, or are some of you wanting to go elsewhere?" She tilts her head toward George, Travis and Arabella.
"You can always hire a car you know - I'll sort it out if you like. But it'd be great if you came to watch."
9.00am 15th September 1998
The lobby of the Hotel Esplendido