The twin prop engines of the Cessna 340A roared as Central America slid along beneath the aircraft. Elaine Denning, gripping the sides of the passenger seat for dear life, shouted to make herself heard over the din.
"Can't you keep this damn thing level? I feel like I'm in a paint shaker!" The girl was serious. She wore no disguise.
Bell and DeVoe cast knowing looks at one another and shared a bemused grin. Biv ground his teeth and clenched the steering wheel. Ms. Denning looked annoyed and glanced out through the windscreen. She was delighted to see the airstrip on the horizon. "There!" she shouted. "Just there. We've made good time."
The time was six o'clock on the Swatch watch when they touched down in Nakbe, Guatemala. They were greeted warmly by Ms. Denning's team of excavators and archeologists, all of them men of letters. They deferred to Ms. Denning at once, and it was immediately clear to Bell, Biv, and DeVoe that she was a woman who commanded immense respect and exuded authority. She carried a gun, just for fun.
Her men assisted with the unloading of the plane and the three were shown to their lodgings: a makeshift barracks containing cots. The adventurers were used to far worse conditions than these. They washed up and met Ms. Denning and her men in the mess tent an hour later for a dinner. The meal was simple and bland, but two days' travel had Biv and DeVoe grateful for any sustenance whatever. Bell had been fighting a stomach bug and was reluctant to eat. One of Ms. Denning's men pushed a basket of bread his way. "Will you take just a little bit?"
"Yeah," Bell relented. He tentatively sampled the bread and was happy to find it agreed with him. As they ate, Ms. Denning outlined her plan for the morning. Just two months earlier, her men had uncovered a previously uncharted catacomb of Mayan tunnels, which appeared to lead to a series of underground tombs. Her translators had deciphered the warnings above the entrance to the catacomb and had been warned of a terrible curse that would befall any who dared enter. She was frankly shocked that the men would be taken in for this foolishness, and they are bowed their heads toward their plates unconsciously, their faces burning with embarrassment. Ms. Denning was forced to seek out the famous BBD Adventuring Party, based out of Boston, to help her investigate the tombs.
Ms. Denning intended to set out for the site at first light the following morning. They cleared the tables and retired for the evening. Bell, Biv and Devoe were exhausted. They were in their cots fifteen minutes later and without even a thought of laying their bodies down by the fireplace, they were fast asleep moments after closing their eyes.
Ms. Denning and the three adventurers loaded up a Jeep with gear and supplies and drove an hour through thick brush before arriving at the excavation site. They strapped on their packs and walked down a lengthy series of platforms set up on scaffolding to reach the entrance to the catacomb. It looked as foreboding as they had heard. Bell and Biv hung back; they knew the routine.
DeVoe examined the long, darkened entrance corridor cautiously. Ms. Denning tapped her foot and sighed in exasperation. "Oh, come on now. We haven't all day." She strode forward, but DeVoe shot out his arm, blocking her way. She opened her mouth to protest, but DeVoe fixed her with a knowing look. He leaned down and tossed a medium-sized rock into the hallway. They all watched it bounce just inside the corridor. Suddenly, crude arrows shot from the walls on either side of the corridor and lodged themselves in the stone with a frightening series of THWACKs. Ms. Denning's eyes grew wide. DeVoe leaned inside the door and gently touched a finger to the shaft of one of the arrows lodged in the wall. His finger came away tacky with residue. He put the finger to his mouth and immediately spat in disgust.
"What was it?" asked Ms. Denning.
"That, girl," said DeVoe, "is poison."
TO BE CONTINUED