The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Hour of the Jaguar
From: M G Raimbaud
To: Operatives: Karyn Hart, Travis Tuttle, Rupert de Montfort, Arabella Robyns, George Wellington Hardy, Sean, Joanna Wilton.
Subject: Criminal Activity in the Yucatan Peninsula
Rendezvous: (British) Gatwick Airport South Terminal, 1100hrs BST, 14th September 1998.
(General) Cancun International Airport, 1300hrs local, 14th September 1998.
Destination: Merida is a small town in the east of Mexico. Despite its size, it is the administrative centre of the Yucatan and like much of the region depends on tourism for the health of its economy. Nearby coastal towns soak up the majority of holidaymakers who are interested in sand and sea, leaving Merida poorer and less commercialized than its neighbours. Typical visitors are interested in the more extreme sports (cliff-diving at nearby Progresso or cave-diving in the many underground lakes) or in the local archaeological sites: Mayan and Zapotec ruins.
Travel Arrangements: British operatives will depart from Gatwick Airport at 1205hrs on British Airways flight 902. This flight will arrive in Cancun, Mexico at approximately 1245hrs local time, whereupon you will remain in the terminal building for the rendezvous with Sean, who will be making his way to the airport from Chicago. Maria Tengue will meet you at the terminal at 1300hrs; we have retained her to act as your guide and translator. She will drive you to Merida, which is two hours away by road, and see that you get settled in at the Hotel Esplendido.
Cover: So as to give you the greatest freedom of movement, you will be posing as a group of tourists. Whilst your itinerary has been left to you to devise, it is strongly advised that you spend some time indulging in activities commensurate with this story. Your tour will have been organised by Artifex Tours Ltd, 16-18 Boundary Row, London, SE1 8HN, tel/fax 0171 865 0088.
This cover is rated Code 3. Artifex Tours does not exist, but communications with the above address and calls to the above number will authenticate your story.
Background Information: The Raimbaud Institute is a London-based association of archaeologists and historians interested in the practice of art throughout antiquity. Unbeknownst to the majority of members, we also research certain finds on behalf of SITU. To this end, we recently sent one of our employees to Merida to obtain from the local museum two curiosities. Negotiations proved successful, but on the 2nd September Ms Patricia Lloyd returned to her hotel room at the Esplendido to discover it ransacked. A obsidian statuette of a winged serpent was missing, as was 100US dollars and some travellers cheques, leading local police to decide on a simple pecuniary motive. However, our other acquisition, a golden belt piece of Zapotec origin, had not been taken - a fact which the investigating officers chose to ignore.
It has recently come to our attention that this theft was not an isolated incident. The Yucatan Archaeological Trust, with whom we have strong ties, have over the past two weeks reported no less than five robberies from local museums and digs. Professor Ramón Lazla is the Trust's president, and has made repeated appeals to the Chief of Police to increase security and investigate thoroughly, but at present the latter seems intent on blaming the disturbances on a group of local revolutionaries. Ramón Lazla is also the man with whom Ms Lloyd negotiated the loan of the works of art mentioned above.
At time of writing, the last incident to be reported was the theft of an ornate Mayan calendar wheel - centrepiece of a display at Uxmal - between 1am and 6am on September 11th.
(a) Discover who is responsible for these thefts. It seems likely that the local police are at best incompetent, and possibly worse. Therefore we are taking the matter into our own hands.
(b) Determine the motives of those who are responsible. This information is more important to us than the names of the robbers.
(c) Recover the onyx statuette stolen from Ms. Lloyd. The Raimbaud Institute has particular interest in this item, and would like the opportunity to study it.
(d) Recover the other stolen artifacts. If we are responsible for returning these items to the museums, the strengthening of ties that will result will be invaluable. Alternatively, investigation of (b) might suggest that we ourselves would be interested in the objects. In which case...
(e) (hypothetical) Negotiate the sale of the stolen articles to the Raimbaud Institute.
Expenses: SITU will reimburse operatives for all reasonable expenses incurred in pursuit of your objectives. Receipts will be required.
Dear Joanna, George, Arabella, Rupert, Sean, Travis, Karyn,
I would just like to wish you good luck in your investigation. Professor Lazla is a personal friend of mine, and a brilliant archaeologist who shouldn't have to deal with all this trouble. Before you leave, though, there's a couple of things I ought to make clear to you.
Firstly, the information in this briefing has, for reasons which don't at present concern you, been distributed on a need-to-know basis. If you make any progress at all you must report your findings back to me at the Institute. Swiftly, too, before Mexico's heritage disappears down the drain.
Also, it's sometimes necessary to point out that SITU does not condone any activity outside the law - if you choose to do so, on your own heads be it. The Raimbaud Institute cannot afford any legal difficulties, so don't expect to be bailed out if you get into trouble.
Once again, good luck and a safe journey,
Dr. Martin Raimbaud
The Hour of the Jaguar
The faint sound of pencil tapping against paper is lost in the hubbub of conversation as the plane begins its descent above the blue Atlantic. "Composite" murmurs George beneath his neat moustache, and with a few neat strokes the Times crossword lies finished in his lap. He folds it away and casts his blue eyes around the cabin: tourists, the lot of them. With his light-coloured linen suit and well pressed shirt he almost looks out of place amongst the young families and couples, his balding grey head lending him a distinguished air.
"Royal Signals, right?" says Jo, who has the window seat to his right. "Your tie rather gives it away."
"Why yes, Joanna, how did you..." His voice is calm and confident.
"It's Jo, please, not Joanna. I was commissioned myself." George can't help but glance at the marks running lightly down the right side of her face, and at the terrible scarring on the hand that's holding her book.
"Gulf War" she says simply, noticing his inadvertent gaze. "I'm a journalist now." She shifts position in her chair, and crosses her legs. She is wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, having stowed her leather jacket for the flight.
Behind them, Rupert is engaging a young student in a friendly conversation about travelling. Were it not for his being nearly thirty, he could easily be mistaken for a student himself, with his worn grey flares, dusty trainers and shoulder length hair. Even sitting down, he is quite strikingly tall as he reclines back in his chair and stretches a relaxed leg into the aisle. He laughs and nods in agreement as the student complains about the no-smoking seats they have been given.
Whilst Rupert cranes across the aisle, Travis is taking the opportunity to glance at the card Dr. Raimbaud included with everyone's papers.
Professor Ramón Lazla
Yucatan Institute of Archaeology
10 Rio Castille
He slips his wire framed glasses neatly into his suit pocket and straightens his tie. His slight body sitting upright in his chair, he makes quite a contrast to the sprawling, relaxed Rupert.
"We will be landing at Cancun Airport in fifteen..." resonates the captain, and the seatbelt sign flicks on. Travis takes the opportunity to comb his sandy brown hair, and returns his paper on Coptic Christianity in Egypt to his suitcase.
The airport is stuffy and humid as the six arrivals from England wait for their luggage. In a corner, Arabella is starting to flick through a book she has just bought in an airport store.
"It's called the Popoh Vuh" she explains quietly to Travis, who has expressed an interest.
"The salesman said it was a Mayan religious text, so I thought..." Her eyes never leave the pages. Her long black skirt flows over her short legs, and over her blue blouse is strung a small satchel. At five feet tall, and with her hair tied back into a bun, it came as something of a surprise to hear this reserved young woman introduce herself as a Professor.
A local taxi driver approaches the group, hoping for some Europeans uncertain of the exchange rate.
"Excuse me, señorita, were you in need of going someplace" comes the thick accent and hopeful grin. He has chosen to address Karyn, which comes as no surprise to everyone else. With collar length black hair framing her pale face, black jacket slung over her shoulder, black open neck shirt and black cotton skirt running down almost to her knees she is attracting glances from quite a few passers by.
"No thank you, we're quite alright" she says.
"I offer you very cheap taxi. Very cheap."
"Erm... No thank you..." She casts a nervous glance around, and Major Hardy steps forwards.
"We have no need of a taxi, thank you very much," he says with authority, and the man wanders off with a shrug.
"Excuse me.." Karyn feels a tapping on her shoulder.
"Look, we don't need a..." she trails off as she turns round.
"I'm Sean" comes an American accent, though it has a touch of something else to it. She hadn't noticed him approach. He's got a cigarette in his left hand, on which he takes a drag. Clean shaven, his grey/green eyes sparkle as he asks...
"Joanna, Karyn or Arabella?"
He nods, and then offers everyone a handshake before leading the group off to a coffee bar where he's been waiting with Maria Tengue. She looks very healthy, with a well tanned face and deep brown eyes, and greets the arrivals with a beaming smile.
"Welcome to Mexico, everyone, and welcome to the Yucatan. I hope you're all looking forward to enjoying yourselves, yes? My name is Maria, and if you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to ask. Right now, I think we ought to get you all to Merida as soon as possible so you can relax, yes? Yes."
Maria drives a large minibus down the long, straight road and the glitzy hotels of near the beaches quickly fade into continuous dark green vegetation.
"It's very flat, isn't it?" remarks Rupert placidly.
"Yes, very," replies Maria. "Actually, the whole of the peninsula is very flat, and very close to sea level. It's mostly covered with jungle too, not much good for farming, except in a few places."
In the back, Travis has found himself sat next to Sean.
"Excuse me, Sean, precisely where in the US do you come from?" he asks.
"Chicago. Though I kind of think of myself as Irish. Boston, right?"
"Why yes, how did you..."
"It's my job to be able to know things like that."
Maria's voice cuts in to the conversation from in front.
"One thing everyone ought to be aware of is that the police are being quite strict at the moment. There have been a few troubles recently, nothing for you tourists to worry about I assure you, just a bit of political disturbance, but you should all carry your passports around with you just in case. As identification, you know."
"Hey, umm, what kind of trouble is a political disturbance?" asks Rupert.
"There's a very insignificant group of people locally who don't approve of the governments policies towards the poorer parts of the country. But it's nothing for you to worry about, it really won't affect your trip whatsoever." She beams in an honest and reassuring manner.
"The Zapatistas, yes? I read about them in the Times a year or so back... rather disorganised bunch of people, no?" George looks inquisitively at his guide.
"Yes. My, you are well informed. Goodness. I hope I'm not out of a job here!" she laughs, and the car speeds on through the jungle.
Outside the Hotel Esplendido, the manager introduces himself as Arsenio Vizcaya, and welcomes everyone effusively all the time rubbing his hands. He's a tall and handsome man; anything he can do to help, he says he will.
"After all, you are all my friends, yes?"
Despite the nineteenth century splendour of the building's architecture as the seven operatives disappear into the cool hotel lobby, they are left with an image of the unhappier side of Merida. Underneath the hotel steps, a scruffily dressed young boy lies curled inside a cardboard box; he cannot be more than ten years old. Maria gives a little shrug and tilts her head sympathetically.
"Lets get inside the hotel, and then I'll let you all get unpacked and refreshed. We ought to get you out and about to see the sights, though, as soon as you are ready. I'm going to be staying in room 202 - don't hesitate to disturb me if there's anything you want. And then there's the local attractions... Does anyone think they'd like to try a little cliff-diving?"
She raises her eyebrows hopefully.