The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Las Cabezas de Muerte – Chapter 2
Diana glances round before speaking - 'I'll come. They can't be any harder to talk to than our jet-set friends the Willoughbys'.
Damien adds 'I expect Mr Enright and his TV crew are as exhausted as most of us - but I'm still running on DC time, so I'm up for a short chat.'
Ben looks slightly uncomfortable. 'Look, I don't want to tell people what to do, but I reckon two of us is going to be enough, we don't want to crowd them.'
'OK - you're the journalist, Ben. Why don't you and Diana go? The main thing I wanted to find out was an Internet website URL or an email address for the "Ghost in the Machine" production company.'
'Should be possible to get one out of them. We'll have to see how it goes.' Ben seems to have got a lot more serious, and sobered-up by a couple of drinks at the prospect of some information gathering.
'Strange name isn't it? Anyway, once I've got the network address for their box, I should be able to crack it... just a matter of time.'
'How's things going with that?' Red asks, and then continues 'Tell you what - you could get a list of who else was on our flight out here. Then we could find out why they're here, and where they are and if any of them are linked with the skull owners we know about.'
'Might be worth a try. I'm heading up to check a few more things, so I'll give it a go. Why don't the rest of you all turn in for the evening? I have a feeling tomorrow's going to be another long day.' With this Damien rises, he and 3 others of the team leave.
Ben and Diana look at each other - 'let's just make sure we don't give too much away,' says Diana, echoing Ben's thoughts. They recharge their glasses at the bar, and wander over to the corner table populated by Jason, Paula, Tony and a steadily increasing collection of glasses.
Diana smiles as first Tony, and then the others, look up 'Hi, you were on the 'Nightmare at 20,000 feet' flight with us earlier weren't you? It's getting to be quite a little gathering; virtually everyone from the plane's here.'
Tony nods as Jason stands up, his voice is loud, but not unpleasant, 'Hello. Yeah - dodgy plane, but we made it. I'm Jason Enright.'
His offered hand is shaken 'Diana Knight,' she says. His hand is shaken again 'And I'm Ben McDonald. I came here to see some cliffdiving but it seems that's only the second most exciting event in Merida. What's the story with these skulls?'
The two SITU members sit down with muttered names from Paula and Tony, both are listening to Jason - 'Ah "Las Cabezas de Muerte", the skulls of Death.' His voice loses the dramatic edge as he continues 'all a bit of fun I suppose - human interest and all that. Have you been speaking to one of the owners, or babysitters or whatever?' He laughs, and Tony joins in.
'Yeah. The Willoughbys were talking to us earlier,' says Diana.
'So you guys run some TV company, right?', Ben asks.
'Yeah. "Ghost in the Machine", at your service,' says Paula, 'all 3 of it.'
'What's the name mean?' Ben continues, questioning without probing.
'Bugger all,' Jason says with a laugh 'Absolutely bugger all. Just sounds cute. It's all image really, this business. All you really need is a flashy business card and you got it made.'
'And do you?' asks Diana, 'have a flashy business card? I mean. It's just I'm a designer, and it's always good to see what's popular.'
'Well, what do you think?' Jason hands over a fairly tacky looking card, dogeared at the corners, but Diana can't help smiling - it's got an Email address. 'Pretty good. Yeah' she says nodding and slipping it away.
Ben leaps in to avoid a silence 'So do you guys always work together?'
Tony begins a long story about Bosnia, where it seems they all were a while back. It's difficult to follow, because Jason and Paula are openly ignoring him and chatting about 'tomorrow's filming.'
Diana and Ben listen in - the filming at Chichen Itza starts at 2 and it sounds like a number of the skull owners will be interviewed. From the tone of their talk it sounds like neither has any particular interest in the skulls, but more in sending up the people who believe in them. After a few minutes Diana and Ben both drain their glasses, and head off to 'seeya', 'I'm sure we'll bump into each other' and 'adios amigos', the last from Jason.
Upstairs Ben congratulates Diana on getting the card. She yawns pointedly, and he offers to take it in to Damien, whose light is still on and spilling out under the door.
He knocks gently, and Damien comes to the door. He opens it rubbing his eyes.
'How's it going?' Ben asks.
'Got the plane list, and where people said they were staying. Might be some use, but there's no way to tell who's linked with skulls and who's here for the cliff diving, or ruins, or business or anything. I think I'm going to turn in. How'd it go with the TV people?'
'Pretty good actually. Guess what?' Ben flips the card between his fingers and passes it over. 'Guess they're not big enough to have a website, despite Jason's claims of image, but they're connected.'
'In that case, I'll just see where this gets. Nice work.'
'Thanks, though Diana got it almost single-handed. Listen, don't work too hard - this computer stuff's pretty useful, but it's going to look pretty odd coming all the way to Mexico then spending all the time in your hotel room.'
'Yeah, you're right. I'll get out more tomorrow I guess.'
'OK. See you for breakfast, 9 o'clock yeah?'
'Yeah. Seeya then.'
Ben leaves and goes to bed, leaving Damien clutching the card. He goes over to his busily whirring computer and closes down the existing search. He taps in the net address of the 'Ghost in the Machine' and sets about finding the server. Half an hour later, before turning in, he sets up a new folder 'GITM, correspondence' - it ought to fill up with every message they get, and every one they send out.
Red's alarm starts buzzing at 7:00, and stops 22 seconds later. He lifts his bulk up, and staggers through to the en-suite shower. 2 minutes and a few gallons of water later he's awake, and after another 10 he's dressed in shorts and vest top and headed downstairs. Maria is waiting in the lobby, armed with the hired rackets that display their purpose.
'2 minutes early,' she comments, 'whatever happened to jet lag?'
'Well. I guess it'll catch up with me, so I'd better stay active while I can.' He half smiles, and leads out of the hotel.
'The courts are only 5 minutes away.'
'Might as well walk then.'
On the way Red talks about the strange glowing skull he and his friends thought they saw on the plane. Maria listens with interest, and the wide eyes of the half believing. Her comments range little from shrugs and surprised 'really?'s, but she seems interested enough.
An hour's tennis is quite enough on the hard packed clay of the courts. Red is pleased to have just won, and confident that he'd have been even more impressive if he'd pushed himself. The two return to the hotel at 8:30, and Red dashes off immediately to shower in time for breakfast.
By 9:05 the whole team is settled round a large round table, and glancing round at the range of food available. George was the last down, yawning conspicuously, 'How did last night go?' he asks Diana, sitting next to her.
'Pretty good. They're friendly enough, if a bit superior'
'Might be worth trying to talk to Tony or Paula on their own. They might say something that Jason might try to hush up.' suggests Corrin.
'Yeah, Jason does dominate the conversation alright.' says Ben. 'Anyway, they're filming at 2 today, at Chichen Itza. Interviews of the skull owners.'
'Thanks for the card guys. I've hooked up to their server, and should be getting all the mail coming through to "Ghost in the Machine", as and when it arrives,' says Damien, with a hint of pride.
'Nice work. I reckon we might as well all head over there this afternoon - it's good for our cover, and we'll be able to keep one of us hanging around them all the time,' George says, 'as for this morning, I fancy some time in the sun. I need to get a bit browned up, or I'll end up collapsing with sunstroke. I might try asking that Ed woman a few questions.'
'OK. Well, some of us ought to go watch the diving this morning - anyone else up for it?', asks Damien.
Red and Corrin both nod that they'll join him.
Diana shakes her head - 'I'm going to try and get more out of the Willoughbys,' she nods over in their direction having spotted them asking slowly and loudly for All Bran earlier.
Ben looks across to Damien. 'Any chance I could borrow your taping equipment, I think it'd be a good idea to get used to the stuff before using it in the field.'
'Yeah, come get it after breakfast - like to try your hand with a radio scanner as well?'
Ben looks blank, so Damien continues - 'It's really very straightforward, you just have to have an ear for picking out what might be useful.'
'Yeah, why not?'
'Something to put on your CV isn't it?', jokes George, 'after all, isn't that why we all joined SITU?'
A couple of eyebrows are raised, but no-one seems to have been listening in.
'While we're talking about equipment - can I see how I get on with your monocular Damien? Thought it'd be good for views of the diving,' says Corrin.
'Oh, and I thought we'd better check out where the Sheraton is. Maybe get Mahmoud to show me, he might be useful for us,' says Diana.
Damien looks at Diana with a little smile and a wink and says, 'sounds like the boy's taken a liking to you - go for it. This kid Mahmoud may seem disgusting but I'll bet he knows more about the comings and goings around here than the hotel manager. I think we should try to get him on our "payroll".'
'Well, we certainly ought to see if he can help,' says Corrin, 'Oh look, there's Maria.'
The guide is waved over, and plans to go diving, and then to Chichen Itza are formed. The group split up, promising to meet for lunch at midday.
Diana waits at the table, sipping her coffee gently, watching the Willoughbys with half an eye. As they get up, gather hats, camera, handbag and the small packets of sugar from the table she drains the last and walks over to the lobby, developing an interest in a local map displaying various restaurants, hotels and bars.
As the couple walk past she turns, 'Hi, I wanted to thank you for the advice about buying a hat. It's just as well that the two of you are experienced travellers. You can tell this is my first trip to Mexico, can't you? I'm hoping to do some sightseeing so it's bound to come in useful.' She pauses for a second as they nod enthusiastically 'Are you planning on doing some sightseeing yourself or are you just here for this skull ceremony?'
'Well, we always like to look round a place, don't we dear, get a feel for the culture,' replies Elsa.
'But Troilus and Cressida brought us here,' adds Martin.
'I don't mean to sound rude, but it's rather an odd thing to do, isn't it? Who on earth came up with that idea?'
'Well, when one has found such an exquisite object, not to mention two, it is hardly surprising one wants to find out more about where it came from, is it?' says Elsa, a little pretentiously.
'There seems to be quite a few people with the same view, so many of the lucky collectors are planning to come, so we're told.'
'Anyway, whereabouts in Surrey do you actually come from? When I was studying at Ealing I knew a girl from Guildford, but I lost touch with her a few years ago. Amy Porter, her name is. I don't suppose you'd know her by any chance?'
'Ooh, shouldn't have thought so, Surrey's a big place you know?' says Elsa.
'We're from Camberley actually. Not too far from Guildford.'
'Don't think we've heard of her though, have we dear?'
'Well, who was that girl you used to partner at bridge?'
'Ooh, at the church hall in Westage. Let me see, I can picture her face, brown hair, mousey really, but never mind and...'
Diana really doesn't think she can take much more of this, 'No, doesn't sound like her at all. Never mind, just an idea. Well, I'm sure I'll see you soon enough. Goodbye.' Her retreat takes her through the lounge, and out to the pool area where she sees George in conversation with Jouke.
The group heading off to Progreso decide to walk, the morning being surprisingly and pleasantly cool. The walk through the town is mostly shaded, and once everyone is used to skipping out of the way of badly driven, beaten up cars they relax. Maria points out the nicer buildings, and gives them a brief history of the town from the Spanish invasion forward.
About half an hour later they arrive at the cliffs, and the clear blue sea beyond. They sit for a while just watching the few divers leaping through the air, and a group of Mexican kids playing in the waves. After a while, Damien suggests a swim. Corrin hangs back, and after a brief pause, so does Red. When Damien and Maria are out of earshot he turns back to Corrin - 'What was that look for?'
'Well, I sort of need a hand get the hang of this monocular, and it'd be worth two of us getting used to it.' She gets up and they walk off out of sight. As it turns out, the monocular is very straightforward, but the 8X magnification is pretty useful for picking out details at 20 yards, and features like faces at about 200.
Damien and Maria find the water cooling, and the views up to the cliffs quite impressive. Maria points out some of the more famous, and dangerous, jump points.
'Yeah, I'm sorry I was feeling so tired yesterday. I understand you put on quite a show. I'm really sorry I missed that. Is there any way I can make it up to you? Would you let me buy you dinner and take you dancing this evening? I'd love to have you teach me the Macarena!'
She smiles, 'Well, maybe, yes. We'll have to see what the others are doing, but there are a number of bars that have music for dancing to. We could find one I'm sure.'
George smiles at the little round woman sitting next to him.
'Oh, I remember what it was that I remembered remembering about you.'
She looks confused, her English had been holding up well to small talk, but George has thrown her, and he knows it. He continues, 'well earlier I said there was something I remembered about you from the plane.'
'Yes,' Jouke agrees slowly.
'It was the glass skull you had with you. Very distinctive.'
The little woman smiles warmly. 'Ooh yes, you mean Ed? That's what I call him. Very clever Ed.'
'Does he go everywhere with you?'
'Well, I don't carry him down to the pool, after all, he might get sunburnt,' she smiles at her joke.
'Well, does he like sightseeing?'
'Ooh yes, but of course it's not me dragging him around, I'm just here to keep Ed company. He's meeting up with all of his friends. It's a skull reunion.'
'Really? the skull's from the Zapotecs, yes?', George prompts.
'Yes, Yes. I think so.' She smiles, 'I must introduce you to him. I must.'
'Jolly good. I'd love to see him. You say he's going to a reunion? How many of these artifacts are there?', George asks.
'Ooh, lots. There are several of them here already, let me see, Mr and Mrs Willoughby with T and C. And little Adrienne with Gonzo. Ooh and Rogier, Rogier Montachon or something. He's French. He looks after two of them, King Jaguar and Running Bear. Very nice, all of them.'
'Skulls nicer than their owners, hey?'
It might be that she didn't get the joke, but Jouke just nods, and says 'Yes,' quite definitely.
Ben has spent a morning with Damien's equipment, and is thoroughly impressed. The tape recorder is palm sized, and runs very quietly. It'll get a conversation from across the room, given no background noise. The scanner is interesting, but Spanish babbling is Spanish babbling, whether it be the police, local news or a CB operator saying he'll be home for lunch late. He heads down for a pre-lunch drink but spots the Willoughbys leaving the stairs ahead of him. By pausing he notes their room number - 213 - and lodges it away for future reference. Down at the bar he meets Diana.
'How's things going?' she asks.
'Oh OK. And you?'
'Yeah, just been over to the Sheraton, I fancied a walk, and as predicted, Mahmoud was only too pleased to help. Seems like a nice kid, could do with a mute button though.'
'Oh, I've been meaning to ask - was the business card design thing just a bit of cover, or do you really do that kind of stuff.'
She smiles - 'I'm not that inventive I'm afraid. I really do it.'
He shows her his business logo, which could do with updating.
'Better than just a big, yellow M,' she says, and they soon fall into conversation about graphics, and her art in general.
Red and Corrin pile out of their taxi as the other comes round the corner. The drivers are paid and they all walk in, ready for lunch. The buffet lunch continues the really quite decent standard of the food at the Esplendido. The morning's discoveries are swapped, and plans made to meet in the lobby at 1:00 to head off to Chichen Itza.
The bar of the Hotel Esplendido
1 pm 25 November 1997
Ben: Diana and you chat. She's quite pleasant and polite but a little withdrawn. You notice she wears a wedding ring, but talked about her little studio, so you suspect she's single. She likes cats.