Premiered August 22, 2003
There's an old saying: The best laid plans... Once Dawn and Alex had managed to walk twenty feet into the cover of the stunted woods, two men with the classic look of road bandits suddenly appeared in their path. On cue, four others popped up on either side and behind them on the path. It was a moderately inept ambush, but considering the prey, more than adequate. It certainly impressed Dawn and Alex, who were totally surprised -- their hands going up in the traditional, knee-jerk reaction of people suddenly caught with guns pointed at them.
Bandit #1 smiled underneath the black scarf across every part of his face other than his eyes, and said, in his best mocking fashion, "So! Rich Americans, no doubt!"
"But poorly prepared," Bandit #2 observed. Sarcastically, he asked, "Are you lost?" At the same time, he kept his rifle carefully pointed at Alex's midsection.
Dawn had the sudden thought they had just encountered members of the Shining Path, the notorious, and some say, Communist, rebels of the Peruvian highlands. Alex had the same thought, but thinking fast, said, "The Federales are after us." Dawn turned slightly to glance at him, and thinking about it, decided it was a clever ploy. Unless, of course, the six armed desperadoes were law-abiding citizens who would be delighted to turn in fugitives for the reward money.
But then she felt their reaction, particularly the men behind her, who were suddenly very defensive about who might be coming up the trail behind them. "Federales?" Bandit #2 replied, his tone showing considerably more respect for Dawn and Alex than before. But then he caught himself. "What did you do?" he asked, returning to the sarcastic tone. "Forget to tip the waiter?"
Alex was momentarily at a loss as to how to answer, but Dawn picked up on it immediately. "Oh, we're innocent. But they're still trying to kill us. We think they're being paid by our enemies."
Bandit #1 laughed cynically. "The Federales are always being paid by someone." Taking charge, he gestured to the other bandits behind Alex and Dawn, adding verbally, only "Pronto!"
Three of the men took off moving very rapidly down the path, where they were joined by two others who had been hiding at the edge of the woods. Alex watched the five scurrying down the path, until they reached the edge of the rock ledge path. There they took up positions, ready to ambush anyone moving along the trail. The early twilight provided light to see, with the last rays of sunlight now evident only on the upper peaks. But the light was quickly fading.
Bandit #1 turned his attention to Alex and Dawn. "Sit down and be very quiet. We will wait here for the Federales. If they appear on the trail, we will take care of them. But if there are no Federales," his voice turning deadly, "I suggest you make peace with your god -- if you have one."
Alex and Dawn sat down slowly, both suddenly worried that the pepper might have discouraged their pursuers. Bandit #2 quickly tied their hands behind their backs, but in something of a gallant fashion, did not tie Dawn's hands as tightly. Formerly a man of the world (he had spent some time as a gigolo), he knew how easily ladies from the United States bruised. Alex, oblivious to the unspoken gallantry, began plotting various ways of escaping the local firing squad, while Dawn, less distracted by too-tight bindings, went inside her mind to find what she hoped would be divine inspiration on what to do next.
Her immediate sense was one of calmness, a reassurance from someone Dawn could totally trust. There was an initial feeling of relief, followed by a picture of The Devil with horns and dressed in a business suit. A man and woman stood before the terrorizer with chains about their necks which tied them to the evil looking one. But instead of despair, Dawn knew it was a matter of encountering her personal fears, her apparent bondage not based on any reality. For in her mind's eye she could see that the chains about the man and woman’s neck could easily be slipped off their heads, if only by putting the fear aside. Outwardly smiling, Dawn inwardly visualized herself lifting the noose of chain about her neck and tossing it away. She then took a deep breath, relishing the air of freedom. Alex, meanwhile, not privy to Dawn's internal thoughts, continued to glance in the direction of one or more of the bandits with the rifles trained on them.
With the last moments of twilight fading into darkness, the sound of gun fire suddenly erupted, most of the firing coming from the direction of the five bandits lying in ambush. The Federales had managed only one shot in retaliation, but it was pure reaction -- the bullet flying off harmlessly into space. The five bandits seemed particularly pleased: three of the four Federales had conveniently fallen off the trail and scarcely left even a trace of blood. The fourth had fallen back against the rock wall, where he bled primarily on himself. The dog, who had escaped the carnage and had been trained to ignore gunfire, began to lick the dead master's face, wondering what was wrong.
Three of the five bandits took the time to verify the identification of the police officer, appropriated some papers in one breast pocket, and then sent the man to join his comrades in the dense forest below. Then they strolled back to the others, acting in all respects like sportsmen returning from a duck hunting expedition. The papers they had acquired were then passed on to Bandit #1, who quickly studied them with a small red penlight. Then he smiled.
"We let you live a few more hours," he told his captives. "El Cid will want to talk to you."
Alex and Dawn were more surprised than scared. Alex asked without thinking, "El Cid!?"
Bandit #2 was intrigued. "You've heard of him?"
It was Dawn who answered. "Oh, yes. A great warrior."
Bandit #1 exchanged a look with #2 and said, "He will be pleased."
As the group began to fall into line with Alex and Dawn in the third and fourth position, everyone headed out into the woods, walking slowly in the first moments of darkness. They walked in silence for several minutes, before a nearly full moon began to creep over the horizon. With the additional lighting to make the going easier for the tourists, Alex, stepped up to walk nearly alongside Bandit #2 in order to ask a question which had been puzzling him. "Why did you wait in ambush for us in the woods, but when the Federales came along, you took them out on the rock ledge trail?"
Bandit #2 looked at him with surprise, before replying with a shrug of his shoulders. "When you shoot people on the rock ledge, they tend to fall off the trail and down into the jungle. Any money they're carrying is long gone. But in the woods, it's always easier to empty their pockets before tossing them over the cliffs. It's a bit of a trouble to carry their bodies that far, but it's better than losing the cash."
"And the Federales"" Alex asked.
"Federales do not carry money on them. They know their guns are enough to acquire their needs. With them, it's just as well to have them end up at the bottom of the cliffs immediately. We don't like to carry their bodies. They stink very badly. And bleed over everything. Disgusting!"
"Silencio," Bandit #1 abruptly ordered.
Alex dropped back in line, his curiosity satisfied -- even if he would have liked to talk more with Bandit #2. There were always advantages to learning from the true professional.
At the rebel camp, Alex and Dawn were sat down by a small campfire, Alex on the bare ground while Bandit #2 provided a camp stool for Dawn. (The guy really knew how to treat a lady!) At the same time, Bandit #1 went to report to El Cid.
Inexplicably, both Alex and Dawn were cool and calm about the situation. Their optimism was then totally justified as the recently famous El Cid came out and ordered Bandit #2 to back off while he interviewed the captives alone. Then as El Cid approached closer and took a seat on a captain's canvas studio chair, they saw him in the flickering of firelight. Dawn, along with her intuitive sense, could not help but find the man surprising. He was simply not what she might have expected in her wildest dreams.
"Alexander Dukas and Dawn Riordan," El Cid began, his voice betraying a mid-western accent. "Mind if I call you Alex?" he asked. When Alex almost laughed, and said "sure", El Cid turned to Dawn with his best and most cordial demeanor. "And you're Miss Riordan," he said.
Dawn was too stunned to laugh, but managed to answer, "Please call me Dawn."
El Cid's face lit up. "Thank you," he replied, suddenly very jovial. "I appreciate that! And allow me to introduce myself. I'm El Cid!" Leaning forward, he quickly lowered his voice as if imparting something very confidential. "No kin to that other famous fellow, I'm afraid." Then he winked at Dawn and she silently gestured her agreement to keep his secret.
"You speak excellent English," Alex noted. "Almost mid-western..."
"I'm from Cleveland," El Cid confided. "Used to sell used-cars until I got thoroughly fed up one day. Went a little crazy and trashed every car on the lot. Inexplicably, they fired me for it."
Dawn, in almost a constant state of amazement, asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Hey, I'm still a businessman," El Cid replied. "And I figured a local franchise of the Shining Path was just the ticket. All practical businessmen are corruptible, and I'm no exception. As for why Peru... I'm a rebel here because the rebels in this country get a lot of respect from the local natives. A lot more honor than I ever received pushing worn-out cars on worn-out people!"
Alex asked, "Isn't it just a bit more dangerous?"
"Obviously, you've never been to Cleveland!" El Cid quickly replied. "I'm a whole lot less likely to get killed here than on a street corner in Ohio. For one, the terrain is a lot tougher, and the bad guys, the Federales, are anything but heroes. They hate being martyrs." Abruptly, he broke into a big grin. "But we love to make them martyrs. Killing Federales is one of our favorite things." His last two words sounded suspiciously like the strains of a song from the Sound of Music.
Then his smile faded, even as Dawn felt the slight increase in tension in the air. "Killing Federales is good, especially when they so conveniently wander into the ideal ambush. And anyone running from Federales is our friend. Especially when the police have pictures of those whom they're pursuing. Gives the folks who are running a lot of status with the Shining Path."
"They had our pictures?" Alex was more than a little dismayed.
"A copy of a fax, apparently," the man replied, nonchalantly. With a bit more seriousness, he added, "And while you may be our friends -- politics does indeed make strange bedfellows -- it always helps the cause of a developing deep friendship, if our new friends have money. It helps to cement the budding relationship, if you know what I mean."
Dawn was actually surprised, even shocked. "You're looking for a ransom!?"
El Cid leaned back, his arms held out wide in the traditional pass-the-buck routine. "Hey, it's not me. You have to understand, I'm just the local franchise. I have bosses who are a lot less forgiving than I am. Plus, we all have our expenses. The cost of bullets is outrageous, especially with the inflation in this country. And there's the matter of appearances. I can hardly keep my leadership intact if I can't extract the proverbial pound of flesh whenever the moment calls for it!"
Alex flinched. He knew his wallet was already severely depleted. With a slight cough and less confidence, he managed to say, "Well, actually, we're a little short at the moment. But we're expecting a considerable amount of cash to be wired to us back in Cuzco. If you could help us get back there..."
El Cid laughed. "You're kidding. The Federales are sufficiently interested in you they do something they almost never do and head back along the old Inca trails, and you don't think they'll be covering any money being wired into the country? For someone who seems to be uncommonly important to someone with the power to get the Federales on the stick, you ain't too smart."
Alex diverted his eyes from El Cid, realizing he had no comeback. Alex then turned to Dawn, who was watching him, as if waiting for him to finish. Alex then smiled at her, and keeping his eyes on Dawn, he said, "My friend is not without resources. Perhaps..."
Dawn gazed back at Alex, smiling broadly. Then she turned to El Cid. "I don't like to negotiate with my hands tied behind my back."
"Well said," El Cid acknowledged, as he raised an arm and gestured. As Bandit #2 came to do his bidding, the local franchise leader ordered, "Untie her." When Dawn had her arms free and had begun rubbing them where the ropes had rubbed against her wrists, El Cid said, "Your move."
Dawn looked at him, eyeing him carefully. Demurely, she asked, "Do you like gold?"
El Cid laughed. "Oh yes. I have a decided preference for gold. In fact, I'm a firm believer in the Golden Rule." Grinning mischievously, he added, "Dem wid de gold, makes de rules!"
Dawn laughed appropriately at the joke. Leaning forward and luring him into her web, she asked, "How about gold coins? American Eagles, for example?"
El Cid's smile knew no bounds as he leaned forward toward Dawn. "At $405.22 a crack, I'm absolutely a very forgiving man." Then noting their surprise at the preciseness of the price quote, he added, "I keep up with the London and New York price quotes on a daily basis. Via satellite."
Dawn almost laughed, but then returned to the moment. Turning slightly away, her eyes still on El Cid, she reached inside her bra and pulled out two gold coins which she had long ago secreted away. With an understated fanfare, she casually dropped them, one at a time, into El Cid's open palm. The former used-car salesman's eyes lit up, an appreciative smile appearing on his face. Alex's mouth simultaneously dropped open in total amazement.
"There's another twenty just like those, if you take us back to Cuzco where I have them hid."
El Cid did a quick calculation in his mind. "Eight thousand don't buy a lot of bullets, especially when my boys have to go to town just to collect. Let's make it forty more coins."
Dawn barely flinched, at least not enough for anyone to see in the dimness of the moonlight complemented with the flickering light from the fire. "Get real," she said. "My entire hoard was only one standard package of thirty six. You've got two of them already."
"Leaving thirty four more?" El Cid asked.
"Leaving thirty more. I had some expenses just getting here."
"Thirty, huh?" El Cid studied the woman sitting before him. Having become something of an expert in human nature -- in all sorts of situations -- he knew when to negotiate and when to close the deal. Dawn, he suspected, wasn't giving away all of her cards -- or her gold -- but something over $12,000 in gold had a nice ring to it. He had already decided he didn't want to terminate some fellow Americans -- especially the very good looking one. It would be such a waste!
"Okay," he announced. "You'll leave tomorrow morning before dawn. My boys will accompany you, and you'll give them every spot of gold you have, including any still on your lovely body. Agreed?"
Dawn smiled, lying through her teeth, "Agreed!" Standing up she extended her hand to seal the deal. El Cid rose to the occasion, wondering obliquely if this woman realized how smart she was to ensure that everyone in camp saw then shake hands on their agreement.
After a morning-long hike, a ride in an old Ford truck over some of the roughest roads in either of their memory, and then a long wait for nightfall in the outskirts of Cuzco, Dawn and Alex mentally prepared themselves for whatever might lie in wait at the hotel where Dawn's gold was, hopefully, still residing. Dawn made no bones about telling Bandit #2, the leader of their small expedition, about the distinct possibility of there being someone waiting for their return. The would-be commando grinned as he assured her that their small band of five could easily handle any waiting party. There was, after all, the element of surprise -- only in this case, a counter surprise.
When the time arrived, Alex and Dawn waltzed into the hotel as if they were honored guests. Ahead of them and just behind them was a bandit, but each blending in and doing anything but making a show of their arrival. Within minutes, the four desperadoes had congregated by the door to Alex and Dawn's room. Alex then began working the key in the lock, taking an inordinate amount of time to unlock the door. A bandit stood on either side of the door, with Dawn just beyond one of them. Suddenly there was the muffled sound of glass shattering. Then as the door finally unlocked, Alex pushed the door wide open and stepped backward. Both bandits quickly joined Alex to look inside the room.
The room looked neat, save for the fact the door had only opened part way and a bleeding arm lay just beyond the edge of the door. As the bandits stepped in, their guns at the ready, they found the body attached to the bleeding arm, along with another body, equally dead. Both bandits smiled as they looked toward the window where the glass panes had been shattered by a hail of bullets. Bandit #2's smiling face then appeared in the window. Reaching in to unlock the latch, he then slung the window open and stepped into the room. Alex and Dawn came into the room as well, closing the door behind them.
Bandit #2 (he had never told Alex and Dawn his real name) was all smiles. "First time I get to use silencer on my automatic weapon. I did great, no?"
Alex smiled pathetically. "Yes. You were great."
"Been wanting to use a silencer for a long time. Fantastic! Not the god-awful noise you normally get. Of course, I did have to shoot through the window glass. That was messy."
"Your plan worked well," Alex replied. "Our arriving at the door pretty well set them up."
Bandit #2 smiled. "Idea is to stir up the hornet's nest first in order to count the number of hornets before you open fire. That way you get them all."
Dawn looking down at the bodies, asked, "Who are they?"
Bandit #2 did a cursory glance. "Two men in baggy suits. Who cares?" Then he turned directly to Dawn. "Time to pay the piper. Or in this case, the sniper." The man laughed at his own humor, but somehow his joviality did not translate well. Dawn turned to where she recalled hiding the opened cache of gold coins. Pulling it our from under the old style cast iron sink, she handed it to Bandit #2, who tossed the package on the bed and one of the bandits begin to unwrap it and count the coins. Bandit #2 then turned to Dawn and said, "I think I call myself El Silencio. What you think about that?"
Dawn knew just how to respond. "Fantastic. But I can't imagine any woman being silent when you're with her."
The newly anointed El Silencio took a long look at the woman. Then with genuine admiration, he said, "You're good." Then, after thinking more about it, "You also dangerous."
Dawn quietly accepted the compliment. "At this point, we don't have enough money to get out of the country. Perhaps you could let us have one or two coins. For expenses?"
El Silencio laughed. "You also funny." Then he smiled with considerably more threat. "I tell you what. I give you two coins for every additional ten coins you find for us."
Dawn was surprised. And worried. "What do you mean?"
"Our illustrious El Cid, he pretty sure you holding out on him. So we can either destroy the room making sure we have all the gold -- and then kill you and leave with it all. Or... You can just give it to us, we give you twenty percent in return, and we let you live."
Dawn maintained a stone face, while Alex turned to her, a mild form of panic forming in his expression. Then she smiled. "If you break one agreement. Why would you stick with another?"
"First deal based on your lie. But if you now honest, we be honest." El smiled.
Dawn continued to look at the knight of the Shining Path, letting her intuition reach in and sense his honesty. Slowly her smile increased. "Inside the box springs," she said. "At the foot of the bed." Then as Alex bent over to retrieve one of the "Cod Aug 88" packages, Dawn went to a flower vase, where she had studiously inserted individually the 36 coins from the third "Cod Aug 88" package. Alex laid his find on the bed, where he began to open it, spilling the contents. Taking the flowers out and emptying the water, Dawn then began trying to coax one coin at a time out of the vase. This lasted for perhaps ten seconds before, El Silencio took the vase out of her hand, threw it on the bed, and smashed it with the butt of his gun. Then he did a quick calculation in his head.
"The first gold we keep. The rest is 72 coins. We give you 14, just like we said. Okay?"
Dawn smiled confidently. "Okay. And thank you."
"No, no!" El Silencio insisted with great bravado, scooping up the gold into a small bag, "Thank you!" With the gold nicely gathered, he added, with Errol Flynn bravado, "We go now!"
"Just one question..." Dawn said, one arm raised as if to touch El Silencio's sleeve. When El Silencio hesitated, she asked, "How did you happen to meet us in the woods?"
El Silencio's grin was classic. "The Mother, she told us you were coming. She's our friend, but she no say, 'Don't take their gold.' That was our idea." Turning away, but keeping his eyes on Dawn, he added with a wink, "You see... We dangerous too."
"And you would have never killed us!"
"Of course not! Not me! Not a beautiful lady!"
El Silencio then stepped through the window. The other bandits in the room, all smiles, followed him. For several moments, Alex and Dawn just stood there, watching the open window, looking at each other, and trying to comprehend everything that had just happened.
Dawn was the first to move out of the comatose state. Shaking off the craziness of the situation, she picked up four of the coins and began slipping them into her bra. Then she gathered up the remaining ten, and looked at Alex, who had decided sitting on the bed for a moment was a good idea. Calmly she asked, "You want to stuff a few of these somewhere on your person?"
Alex looked at her blankly, but then responded. "Sure. I'll take a half dozen."
Dawn handed six to him, and then went to her backpack. With deft hands, she unloaded the contents, and began secreting the coins into small crevasses in her backpack. She avoided looking to see where Alex stuffed his coins. Then when she was done, she quickly stripped off her torn and worn dress and began packing her backpack with her essentials. Alex had finally caught the spirit and quickly loaded their only other piece of luggage with their remaining belongings.
Dawn then took the dress she just taken off, and ripped a good chunk off of it. With a certain abandon, she tossed the piece of cloth up in the air, letting it settle where it might. The rest of the dress, she kept wadded in a ball. When Alex looked at her, questioningly, she replied, "When they find the bodies, it might be nice to have them think we met with foul play as well. Might slow them down." Then with minimal flair, Dawn took the Do Not Disturb sign from the inside door handle and placed it on the outside of the door. She bolted the door and placed the chain on the slide-hook.
"Good idea," Alex replied. "And we probably don't want to spend anymore time here."
"I agree," Dawn answered.
"Ready to go?" Alex asked.
"Almost," Dawn replied. Slinging her backpack over her shoulders, she then approached a small potted tree. Grabbing the tree by the trunk she yanked hard and pulled it up by the roots. This exposed the fourth "Cod Aug 88" package. Dawn brushed the dirt off and dropped the package into her backpack. That's when she turned to see the horrified expression on Alex's face.
"You held out on them?" he managed to stutter.
Dawn looked at him for a second before answering simply, "Didn't you hear what El Silencio said: He would never have killed us." Abruptly she smiled broadly. "Or at least, not the beautiful lady."
Alex shook his head, a slight smile on his face. "You didn't know that when you forgot to mention the rest of the gold."
Dawn considered the argument for just a moment. Then with a big grin, she answered, "I sensed it -- woman's intuition." With that she stepped through the window. Alex followed, shaking his head from side to side, and grinning from ear to ear.
Cuzco at night is not radically different from other South American cities. Being relatively early in the evening, people were still about on the streets. This allowed Alex and Dawn to blend in with the crowd -- except for Alex carrying a small suitcase. That was going to be a problem. It was just not the worst one.
"I suspect we need to get out of the country very quickly," Dawn said, as they stood at the head of the small alley leading from their room window to the street.
"Yes, "Alex agreed. "When they find the bodies tomorrow morning, they'll be after us for sure." Then his face turned white. "Oh shit. The hotel has our passports! We have to get them."
Dawn groaned. "So much for making them think we were victims as well!" Then she became even more worried, "If they came after us because of the hotel having our passports, can we hope to pick them up? What's the likelihood of our passports even being at the hotel?"
Alex looked more worried than Dawn, even in the dim light of the alley. Then he swallowed, working hard to get something down. "I'll have to make the attempt. We're not going far without passports." He then looked at Dawn, waiting for her to talk him out of the damn fool attempt.
"Wait," Dawn said, quietly but carrying total authority. For several moments she was silent, as her mind reached out. Something unexpected had caught her attention. Now she was going to allow it in and momentarily put aside the distractions (heaven only knows she'd had enough of those lately!). Her intuition then came through in a big way. Only it didn't quite make sense.
"Stick close to me," she said, her mind still grasping for whatever was out there. She stepped into the light of the street, and with something approaching total abandon, walked over to a small public bench. Gesturing to Alex to join her, she sat down. As Alex took his place beside her -- his expression one of calm expectancy -- she sat quietly waiting for that elusive signal to manifest itself.
Within half a minute, she saw the relevant movement. A slight figure, probably a woman, got out of a light brown four-wheel drive vehicle where it was parked across the street. She crossed the open area, just down the street from them, and approached a small shop. As she came into the light of the shop, Dawn recognized her. Dawn had not even turned her head to look at the woman, but had seen quite enough out of the corner of her eye. Alex, meanwhile, had not seen anything.
"Let's go," Dawn ordered. She immediately stood up, directing Alex to, "bring the luggage", and then began walking casually across the street in a typical tourist fashion. Alex did as he was told, and with the small suitcase, quickly followed her, albeit still mystified by her actions. But he had seen enough of her ability to pull a white rabbit out of the hat lately, to follow her anywhere.
The two of them turned and began to stroll down the street. When they came to the four wheel drive vehicle, a Land Rover unobtrusively sitting in the darkness, Dawn nonchalantly opened the door and got into the passenger side front seat, gesturing for Alex to get into the back. When he hesitated, she ordered, with the full authority of god/goddess/all-there-is, "Get in!" Alex got in.
For several minutes they waited. Then the woman across the street made a small purchase, turned and retraced her steps across the street. Alex watched the process with total amazement, until the woman opened the door and got into the driver's seat. His lower jaw bounced once off the floor mats, and then as she closed the door, he managed to gasp, "Sisi!"
"Hi guys," she replied. "You had me worried there. When I saw you go into your hotel with those two men, I was really concerned."
"You have no idea," Dawn replied. "We were a trifle worried ourselves."
"Sisi!" Alex exclaimed, his voice slightly improved from his last attempt.
"Hi love," Sisi replied, as she started the engine, and carefully drove away from the curb.
"The men you saw us with were bandits or members of the Shining Path," Dawn explained.
Sisi was shocked. "And they let you go!?"
"Let's just say they were well compensated for their assistance. They also shot two men who were waiting for us in our hotel room. That's why we were leaving when we did."
"I can imagine," Sisi replied, still struggling with the incredible tale.
"Sisi!" Alex said, his voice back to normal and his mind finally believing what he was seeing.
Sisi glanced in the rear view mirror. "You okay, Hon?"
Dawn was more business like. "Obviously, we need to get out of the country. We could be murder suspects, among other things. But we have a major problem. The hotel has our passports. There's also the possibility the police may have them instead. We know, for example, the Federales were already after us. That's who we were running from when we met up with the bandits."
Sisi laughed. "You've had a busy couple of days!" When she saw Dawn was not quite ready to enjoy the merriment, the younger woman quickly added, "Not to worry. I've brought some fake passports with me. That's why I flew down, instead of just wiring Alex the money he requested."
Dawn suddenly felt the full extent of profound relief. Her entire body relaxed, as she took a long slow breath. Alex was more vocal in his feelings: "Oh , fantastic!"
Sisi smiled. "I thought you'd be pleased." Then as an afterthought, "I just didn't know how badly you were going to be wanting them."
Alex leaned forward to rest his arms on the backrest of the front seat. "You're an absolute god-send Sisi! I knew there was a reason I liked you!"
Sisi gave him a quick glance. "I hope that's not the only reason you like me."
"Trust me," Alex winked. "It's not."
Dawn watched the exchange of winks and nods, feeling slightly left out. At the same time, she quietly decided she had enough drama in her life for the time being.
"There is, however, one problem," Sisi shyly admitted. When both Alex and Dawn had perked up and prepared themselves for the next hurdle, Sisi added, "We're going to have to go to Bolivia before we can fly out. The passports don't include a Peruvian visa -- the Peruvian Consulate has ceased all visas for the moment, quite possibly because of you guys. The tough part is that we’ll have to cross the border at night."
"Is that all?" Dawn replied. "I assumed we'd have to swim down the Amazon to get off the continent. Comparatively speaking, sneaking into Bolivia ought to be a piece of cake!"
"Absolutely," Alex agreed. "We thought you were talking about a real problem."
Sisi looked at the two desperadoes, amazed at their reaction. She was also wondering what in their recent experiences could have jaded the two of them sufficiently to think an illegal border crossing from Peru to Bolivia was going to be trivial. The two countries were practically at war.
Sisi heard all about their experiences from Alex as she drove south and east toward Lake Titicaca. Alex had, early on, offered to let Dawn sleep in the back seat, while he rode in front with Sisi. Dawn had not even thought to be jealous, and quickly fell asleep curled in the back. Alex filled Sisi in, spending considerable time talking about The Mother and what they had learned. Sisi had smiled, already knowing that their next destination was Africa!
The road from Cuzco followed the source of the Urubamba River for some fifty miles, constantly climbing in elevation and descending in quality. Then for another eighty miles, winding up to the Abra La Raya, a pass some 14,147 feet above sea level, roughly as high as the tallest mountain peaks in the continental United States. Then for another 120 miles or so, the Land Rover descended the other side, passing through the ancient city of Azangaro, across the Carabaya River, and into the modern city of Huancane. There they headed for the local excuse for wharves on the northern shores of Lake Titicaca.
Luck was still with them, as one boat of questionable registry (and even more questionable seaworthiness) was leaving within the hour for Copacabana, Bolivia. The Captain of the vessel also had the ideal quality of having too little command of the language to ask questions, but who on the other hand was fluent in the language of money. Meanwhile, the keys to the Land Rover were handed over to a young man on the docks after a long and private discussion with Sisi.
As the boat cast off, Alex and his two companions stood on the deck just forward of the boat's dimly lit bridge. There they felt a momentary refreshment from the cool and comfortingly moist breeze coming off of the lake. The Andes is an arid region and the lake's moisture-laden air was a welcome change. The effect was to bring Dawn fully awake after her brief and turbulent four hours of sleep, reinvigorate Sisi after driving over uncertain mountain roads in the middle of the night, and plant a few ideas in Alex's mind as he noticed how Sisi seemed rejuvenated by the sea breeze.
Dawn broke the momentary silence. "So, Alex, what are your theories on Lake Titicaca?"
Both of the others looked at her in surprise, but for different reasons (which is always the case between men and women). Then he smiled, and said, only slightly self-conscious of his words, "The name comes from Isla Titicaca, the Island of the Sun, where the first beams of sunlight struck a rock just after the Great Flood and Deluge." When Dawn registered some surprise, he added, "The Flood and Deluge by their very nature would have been worldwide. So why not here as well?" When neither of the women said anything, he continued. "The Lake is at an elevation of roughly 12,500 feet above sea level, and is as far as I know, the highest major lake in the world."
Then he shifted slightly, organizing his thoughts. "The Lake is special for a lot of reasons. All of the Andean legends begin on the shores of Lake Titicaca at a place called Tiahuanacu. Actually, the lake used to be a hundred feet deeper and much larger in extent. Tiahuanacu used to be an island, i.e., the Island of the Sun. Furthermore, according to legend, it was at Tiahuanacu, the chief abode of the Creator God Viracocha, that the Children of the Sun, the name the Incas used, were created and taught the rudiments of civilization. It was also there that their first king, a fellow named Manco Capac, was given a golden wand by the Sun God with which to find and found Cuzco. It is, according to legend, the place from where the Sons of the Sun governed the Earth."
"The Anunnaki?" Dawn asked.
"Undoubtedly," he replied. "There are many connections between the Sumerians in Mesopotamia and the establishment of Tiahuanacu. For one, the region has one very notable characteristic: it is one of two regions on the earth abundant in tin -- the second being Cornwall in the British Isles, not far from Stonehenge. But that's another story." Alex smiled slightly before adding,, "Tin might not be considered one of the precious elements, but it is essential in making Bronze -- which is a mixture of tin and copper."
For just a moment, he stopped to take a breath and check his audience, rather like the father reading a bedtime story to his children -- you never knew when you might have a sleeping audience. But both of the women seemed to be following him, so he continued. "Copper can be found in its natural state, but tin must be extracted by difficult metallurgical processes from the ores in which it is contained. This requires a metallurgical sophistication by the ancients which no amount of archaeological fudging can explain. Unless, of course, the technology had been imported from somewhere else. In the case of Mesopotamia, the technology came from the Anunnaki. In the case of Tiahuanacu, it came from Mesopotamia. But originally it probably came from the same source, the Anunnaki.
"The reason tin is so important is that in the ancient days, bronze was important. It was the first metal to be used by humans. Bronze is also difficult to produce, requiring a specific combination of copper to tin in the end product. The best bronze is made with approximately 15% tin and 85% copper. The Sumerians described it as 1 part tin and 6 parts copper. But when tin was in short supply, less was used and the quality of the bronze decreased. The variation in bronze quality over the ages has resulted in archaeologists specifying different ages in the development of bronze: The Old Bronze Age beginning about 3500 B.C.E., followed by lowering of the percentage of tin in bronze (to as little as 2%), and then the Middle Bronze age, where the percentage of tin returns to the almost ideal level of 15%. Lake Titicaca's contribution of tin is thus important because it was almost certainly a major source of the Middle Bronze Age in Mesopotamia.
"And if you don't believe me, read the eighth chapter of Job, where he describes where the ores were to be found, a place where the lion has not trod. There are no lions in South America."
Sisi was the first to voice it. "Why in the world wouldn't we believe you, Alex?"
Alex smiled , while Dawn laughingly said, "Alex has had a hard week. He met me."
Alex looked at Dawn with complete sincerity. "It hasn't been that traumatic."
"Maybe not for you," Dawn replied. Looking around the boat, she asked, "Is there a place where we can get some sleep. I really didn't rest that well in the Land Rover."
Sisi laughed. "I can imagine. In fact, I was amazed you slept at all."
"We're all a little shy of sleep," Alex said. "And yes, I do think we can find some bunks below. Only I suspect one of us should stay awake at all times."
The three quickly agreed and after a quick discussion with the Captain, who was already primed to fall asleep on the bridge, they went below to an incredibly small bunkroom, outside of which was a small galley -- or what had once been a galley long, long ago (in a galaxy far, far away perhaps). Dawn volunteered to take the first watch, and Sisi and Alex went into the bunkroom and closed the door. It seemed unlikely to Dawn that Sisi and Alex would be spending all of their time sleeping, but she quickly dismissed the idea as silly.
Until, of course, every sensory organ of her body, including her increasingly well developed intuitive sense told her they were doing precisely what she had suspected they would be doing. It took a lot of will power for her not to walk in and quietly suggest they get some sleep instead. But then, as is always the case, things calmed down and the two people began to sleep very soundly.
Two and a half hours later, when Alex took over the watch and Dawn went into the bunkroom, she noticed the upper bunk had been unused in recent days. She decided to ignore the implications, crawled in, and went to sleep very quickly. Five hours later, Sisi woke her, telling her it was morning and they were approaching Copacabana. Sometime in the night they had crossed into Bolivia. All three still looked rather wretched, but they were closer to their goal.
Customs turned out to consist of one semi-official Bolivian, who in the true entrepreneurial spirit was delighted to provide the all-important entry stamps for their new passports in exchange for a small donation to his favorite charity (something involving the Juarez Family Fund). Then, with their presence in Bolivia officially recognized, they moved up to a first class car-for-hire which would take them in the direction of Tiahuanacu via the Pan American highway and thence to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. There they proceeded directly to the airport outside the city, situated on a high bluff overlooking the capital.
The airport in Bolivia, the J. F. Kennedy International Airport, has the curious distinction of being the highest major airport in the world, well over 14,000 feet in elevation and higher than any place in the continental United States. But the tourists had little time to comment on the name or the elevation. Their flight had already been called by the time they had purchased tickets with Sisi's money. Once again, they were on the run. So to speak.
Only when the airplane was airborne did they feel even remotely at ease. Dawn did take the precaution once the seat belt sign was turned off to take a stroll about the spacious cabin of the 747, intuitively checking each of the other passengers. Fortunately, with the plane carrying only a third of its capacity, this didn't take long. When she got back to her seat, Sisi had dropped back off to sleep, but Alex was still awake. Dawn took the seat next to him and on the other side from Sisi.
"I didn't have to time ask you back at the airport," Dawn began, "why we're flying to South Africa. I would have though Egypt was our next stop."
"Part necessity, part practicality," Alex replied. "Sisi has a mission of her own contacting a man who has helped us in the past. Essentially, she's going there to warn him of what's happening."
"What is happening?" Dawn asked, suddenly aware of David and the ones still in Phoenix.
"The lab was raided just after they had moved the most important equipment. A cleaning woman, who had apparently misunderstood their instructions not to return to work, was gunned down. Details are sketchy, because the group didn't want to expose themselves purely from the viewpoint of curiosity. David's home was also burned to the ground, supposedly because of an electrical failure of some kind. But no one was home at the time, and save for the unfortunate cleaning woman, everyone is still safe. But clearly, none of us can leave anything to chance any more."
"Where does that leave us?"
"Still on the run, I suppose," Alex replied, shrugging his shoulders. "You and I will fly directly from South Africa to Ethiopia. We won't even go through customs in South Africa."
"This is really crazy," Dawn thought. "It's like it's all coming apart."
"There is some good news," Alex offered. When Dawn showed interest, he said, "David has had some success at controlling the levitation effect of the superconducting elements. He thinks he can eventually do it with human beings."
Dawn looked askance at Alex. "You're kidding!? A person levitating?"
Alex smiled slightly, and in a low voice said, "Back in the Middle Ages, there were a group of French girls who developed an ability to levitate at will. The church was immediately called in and some priests sent to debunk the rumors. Only they weren't able to do so. So I suppose it's already been done."
Dawn watched him for several seconds. "What happened to the French girls?"
Alex swallowed slightly. "They killed them," he reluctantly admitted.
Dawn flinched. "That's hardly encouraging," she replied in a saddened voice.
Shrugging his shoulders, Alex replied, "We may want to avoid immediately going public."
Leaning back in her seat, Dawn reflected on her thoughts. Then she turned to Alex, and in a forceful whisper, asked, "How do these people keep finding us?"
Alex grimaced slightly, embarrassed by the necessary omission of his lack of omniscience. "In foreign countries, whenever you give your passports to the hotel, they automatically check them out with the local police. I hadn't known that before. Every time we used our passports, it went into some computer and with everything linked we were fairly easy to follow."
"But on the mountain in Mexico?"
"That's not as clear. But if they tracked us to Mexico, then there are several logical destinations they might assume we would choose. You'll notice they weren't at the pyramids. But that's probably because that's not where the action is. On the other hand, the other places we went to were rather precisely the critical places, and these can be known to our enemies as well as us."
Dawn looked at him for a long minute. "And our next logical destination will be Egypt, where they will be waiting for us."
"Possibly. But not necessarily," Alex replied. "We have fake passports. They won't know we've left Peru. They may think we're laying low there, and this may give us a little time. That's why Sisi felt it was so important to bring the passports to us. Why she risked her life to do it."
"I very much appreciate Sisi's action," Dawn replied. "It clearly saved us. But...!" She paused for just a second. "How do we know the people who provided us the fake passports are not on the take from the Patrons? Why should we assume the fakes are not just as traceable?"
Alex grimaced at the idea. Then he swallowed slightly, trying to digest the new thought. "Then," he finally said, "We'll have to be very careful." Shaking off the distinct lack of feeling comfortable, he added, "Flying into Ethiopia may help. It's sort of the back door to Egypt. Hopefully they are no computers on the southern Egyptian frontier."
Dawn shook her head, even less encouraged than before. "Do you have any idea," she began to ask, "How dangerous Ethiopia is? They're constantly fighting civil wars, struggling through famines, shooting foreigners at random... It's not a safe place for anyone; let alone two people being pursued by virtually every self-interest group in the world!"
Alex sat still for a moment. Then, quietly, he replied, "You may be right. But it's where we have to go. Ultimately, it's our only hope."
Chapter Sixteen -- The High Priestess
Chapter Eighteen -- The Lovers
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