The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Hour of the Jaguar
"Bloody well wake up will you, you pot-head!"
Sean's bad mood is the first thing Rupert experiences of the day. As he blearily opens his eyes, his uninvited guest kicks at his bed.
"How heavy a sleeper can you be, for god's sakes? And Jesus, what the hell are you doing with your door unlocked like that. You might think you're immortal, but you're damn well not and you'll be dead if you don't keep alert."
Rupert fumbles slowly around for some trousers.
"I shall certainly be sure to lock my door in the future, Sean. What the hell is going on?"
"The sun is up, and we've got a hell of a lot to do before it goes down again, that's what's up. Stop lazing around and get a move on. We're off to the Cuervo." Sean lights a cigarette and starts puffing agitatedly.
"You know" mutters Rupert as he stumbles towards his bathroom, "you could really do with one of my roll-ups. Really rather a lot. That nicotine must be killing your over-stressed old heart."
Sean ignores him and wanders over to the window. The sky still has the deep, crisp blue of dawn. "What's happened to your two men? Where'd they crawl off to?"
Rupert wanders back, yawning. "Oh, you mean my Octavio and Marcos? They really are delightful chaps when you get to know them, you know. I'm surprised you haven't been hitting it off already."
"Whatever. I asked where they were?"
"I persuaded Arsenio to put them up in the room next door. I expect they're still there, given the ungodly number on my alarm clock."
"Right then" growls Sean, "get your Octavio and your Marcos up. We're going to see their boss. We need more men, and I've got a couple of jobs for them..."
The bar downtown is almost deserted. Stools and chairs are upturned on the tables, and no one is serving drinks. The ageing gangster is sipping coffee with two of his younger associates.
"You are starting to try my patience" he warns Rupert and Sean. "Yesterday you insist on a meeting. The day before that, you want a meeting. The day before that..." he trails off for a moment. "Now, you wake me up before I have finished my breakfast. This is not good practice, my friends. This is not good at all."
"What is it you want this time?"
"Right you are, old fellow" responds Rupert cheerfully. "This time it's straight down to business. The facts are as follows." The Mexican leans back in his chair as Rupert starts to explain. "A Mr. Hacavitz, head of the Mayan community, is planning to sacrifice Simon Comos on the Equinox. He has a plan to summon power from the Mayan god Cukulcan, to help the Mayans to regain their former power. What I want to know is what, if anything, you know about all this?"
The Cuervo man puts his hands to his head. "Gods! When are you people going to stop asking me about your mad ideas! I don't know anything about this! How do I make you understand this? How?"
"OK, all right" calms Rupert, "but our ideas aren't mad, old chap. Simon Comos has been kidnapped, and everything I told you beforehand is true. You should be taking this very seriously indeed. We want to stop them killing Simon Comos, and to do this I need, more men, maybe two or three more, over and above Marcos and Octavio. How about it then?"
"How about it?" sighs the Mexican. "How about why? Look. I see that what you are saying may be true. I see what has happened to Comos' boy. I see that there is something heavy that is going on. But I don't see what this has to do with me. I'm not running a charity here. I am thinking, maybe if this is so serious, I should take Marcos and Octavio out of the firing line, yes? And I am thinking, why aren't these people talking to the police?"
Rupert looks shocked. "Look here, old fellow! I've paid you really damned well for what you've done for me, so just you understand. The thing is... the thing is..." he fishes for the right response, "the thing is, it is in your interest to stop these mad fellows from destroying your town and all around it."
Sean has been smoking silently with a scowl on his face, but now he leans forward with sudden inspiration. He grinds out the butt in an ashtray slowly and deliberately.
"My friend" he says. "Mr. Hacavitz and his associates are trying to take over this town, and this area. They've got an odd way of doing it, but basically, they're just out for power. And Mr. Hacavitz doesn't care about whether he's taking power from the government, or from the underworld. He'll take them both. The only thing he cares about, the only thing he hates," Sean leans back in his seat melodramatically, "is Mexicans with influence."
The gangster shifts uneasily in his chair, and starts to fidget with his coffee cup. "OK then fine. Octavio and Marcos stay with you. I'll spare you another two men. You keep me in the know about what's going on on that telephone, eh? I send my men around to the Esplendido by lunchtime, yes?" His eyes narrow. "You'd better be level with me about this."
"Level as this bloody country" replies Sean. "I've got an errand your boys need to run first. There's this girl, one of the Zapas, who's involved in all this. She might help us, and she might be in trouble. I want your guys to check out her house, see if she's there, and escort her safely to meet us if she is." Sean flicks a scrap of paper across the table, stands, and lights a cigarette.
"Name's Lalina" he says.
Simon Comos: Kidnappers Silent
Fears are growing for the safety of young Simon Comos (13) after an unexpected silence from his abductors. Analysts and experts anticipated an early demand for political ransom as the run-up to next Thursday's elections begins. Thus far, however, nothing and no one has come forward. 'Zapatista violence and murder is characterised by political diatribe' explains council leader Pedro Granta, 'I am sure that we will hear their dogmas of hate and communism soon enough.' Many seem to think that it is the disorganisation and chaos that these terrorists promote which is delaying their communication...(cont. page 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12)
An Appeal for Reason
The Merida Times calls upon those responsible for this heinous act to come to their senses. Violence of this kind is clear evidence of the dreadful nature of their cause. If they have one ounce of humanity remaining, they should renounce their ambitions of terror against Mexico and Mexicans and turn themselves in. The Merida Times campaigns for a peaceful and prosperous future.
Major Hardy folds the morning's paper and drops it onto his bed. Most of his fellows have assembled in his room after their breakfast.
"I know that Sean and Rupert have yet to return from whatever jaunt they have indulged in, but there's nothing to stop us working out some strategies whilst they're absent."
George glances around his friends, then begins. "It is abundantly clear, even to me, that the Zapatistas are at work behind this ritual, and that this Hacavitz could be their ringleader. This would mean that the artefacts are likely in the Mayan village, where we would have great difficulty getting them. I therefore suggest that we concentrate on the ritual itself, and how we are going to act."
"I think we should meet with Hernandez. If he is not behind all this he may be of use. And we seem to have told everyone else who we are, what harm could it do? I also think it would be for the best if, initially at least, we go along with Senor de Reconvaco. If the ritual goes ahead, and nothing untoward happens, then we can wrap it up and go home. If, however, something happens to Simon, and he is possessed by something - spirit, ghost, god, whatever - then perhaps Sean can shoot him."
Jo responds quickly and firmly. "There's no way I'm going to be party to killing a child. And don't any of you think about it either."
She glares around at everyone. "I don't want us to start fighting among ourselves, but if anyone tries to hurt Simon Comos, I will stop you."
"I agree." says Arabella. "I still don't understand why Reconvaco has such a callous and twisted perspective on the ceremony, but I know that we cannot follow his lead. At least we got some information from him. But this is something we shouldn't do."
"As to what we should do, I have some ideas which might be of use, if Sean can keep his temper long enough, that is."
Arabella pauses for a second. George speaks up. "Yes, yes. I suggested that we play along with Jaime to stimulate discussion on the topic. I for one would be relieved in the extreme if we can save poor Simon's life. Do go on, though, Arabella."
"Well, Major, as you said, we should meet up with Dr. Hernandez. I think we need to hear what he has to say. I'd like Jo to go with me, the rest of you can keep a 'subtle' watch in case it's a trap. If he's on the level I'll invite him back to the hotel and we can all talk to him. Does that sound reasonable?
"Also, on the assumption that Hernandez proves to be another dead end, I want to suggest an alternate plan that is risky, but might give us the chance to achieve our goal without blowing anyone away. I suggest that, unless we can discover some other method of doing so, we sneak into Chichen Itza on the night before the ritual and try to either drug or subdue the enemy, who are bound to show up at some point to set the place up for the ritual. If we can do that, then we could possibly grab the artefacts and Simon and get away without making a fuss. If we can get our hands on the artefacts, then we can always find some way of getting them into Prof. Raimbaud's hands, either by convincing Lazla and or Hernandez to arrange some kind of sale, or even smuggling them out of the country if we have to. What do you all think?"
"That's the best plan I've heard so far" agrees Jo, nodding towards Arabella. "When you go to meet Hernandez, I'll pose as your friend and fellow scientist. In a public place like the museum, and with everyone else in the background, we'll be safe enough."
"That's well and good enough" begins Major Hardy, "but what of this 'subduing or drugging the enemy'? Have we any idea how we might achieve this? I'm not sure we want to leave this to people like Sean to devise.
"I think Sean obviously has some psychological problem which caused him to vent his frustration, over nearly being captured, at Arabella. His reactions are not what I would have expected. Does anyone know if that gun of his is real?
"I wonder if his apparent change of character has anything to do with our investigation, and not just our lack of tangible progress. Could he be having some internal conflict with one or some of the spirits that appear to be central to this area's culture and our investigation?"
George's voice fades away as the sound of steps approaches his door, and there is an eager knocking.
Rupert strides in with Sean trailing moodily in his wake. Arabella gives the black-faced detective a hard, angry stare.
"If you ever talk or treat me like that again you moronic American jerk, I'll make you regret it." Her voice is hard and deadly calm and she looks straight into his eyes without flinching. "Also, for your information, Mr Macho, Professor Raimbaud would like us to clear this matter without having to resort to violence. So if you've finished posturing and can get a grip of that gun-slinger attitude of yours for one minute, perhaps we can discuss what we're going to do."
Sean curls his lip into a sneer and opens his mouth to reply, but Arabella continues. "Oh, and for the record, you're right, Reconvaco was a mistake, but we needed the information. At least now we know he's a loony and can plan for it. Besides, a bit stupid going after Lalina on your own wasn't it, you got the hots for her or something?"
Sean takes an involuntary step toward her, then checks himself. "Dumb bitch" he growls. "Try visiting the real world sometime."
"Something must be up" grins Rupert over Sean's shoulder. "He's got the Cuervo scouring Merida for the lovely Lalina." Rupert waggles his eyebrows suggestively as Sean spins around.
"Shut that druggie mouth of yours, Pothead. She's got information, that's all, and she might be in trouble."
Rupert raises his eyebrows even more, but Sean doesn't notice.
"Is this the same woman who's a fanatical devotee of the Zapatista cause?" asks Jo.
"Get your facts straight" protests Rupert. "A young and attractive fanatical devotee to the Zapatista cause."
There is a tense silence, broken by a coughing outside the door.
"Oh my goodness" cries Rupert, "in all the excitement I quite forgot the poor chaps." He throws open the door, and Marcos and Octavio slip in. They position themselves self-consciously behind Rupert. Octavio stands tense, stubbled chin thrown out and square, arms folded. Marcos slouches against the wall.
"Everyone didn't really get properly introduced last time, so lets get to know one another now," Rupert enthuses. "This is Marcos, and this is Octavio. I'm keeping charge of my men here, obviously, since I have the background and experience for it. Droves of servants back home, you know. Anyway, my own personal security bodyguards," he seems to relish the phrase, "have orders to force feed drugs to anyone who is rude to them, so just be nice to these lovely men." Marcos frowns and glances a confused look at his employer, who ignores him. Octavio stares impassively out of the window. "You know" continues Rupert, "beneath their brash and plebeian exteriors they really are caring and sensitive individuals."
"There, now everyone's friends. Where next?"
George is frowning at Rupert's levity. "We're going to see Dr. Hernandez," he says.
The Yucatan Institute of Archaeology is an oasis of cool air as the sun reaches towards its zenith. Jo and Arabella are waiting patiently for the doctor to emerge, passing the time with a slow tour of now familiar exhibits. There are no tourists around at present, and the others have positioned themselves outside the building.
Arabella shivers and hugs her arms nervously, screwing her eyes up with a grimace. "I just can't help remembering Sean attacking me," she whispers. "Why can't the bastard just get a life instead of an aggression complex?"
"Look on the bright side," smiles Jo, "whatever way this pans out, we won't have to worry about Sean in a few days time."
"I guess. I'm OK when I have to act tough, but he's just plain scary." Arabella sits down on a chair, huddling herself up. "Thank goodness that there's someone here in Mexico who's my friend." Jo stands with her hands in her pockets, awkwardly shifting her weight from foot to foot.
"I..." begins Jo, "I... I'm sorry" she shrugs. "I don't really know what I'm supposed to say. I guess I'm not that used to having a friend."
Arabella smiles slightly and sympathetically. "There's nothing you're supposed to say," she chides. "Just being around is good enough. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing out here in the heat, with all this madness... Why are we joined up with this mismatched outfit?"
Jo shakes her head. "I don't know, I really don't. Maybe we've all just got something to prove, to ourselves, to whoever."
"Maybe" says Arabella. "I decided to join SITU because of my parents, they disappeared at a dig and were never found. Most people think they're dead, and I think they must be." She stares intently at her feet. "Anyway, I have to know what happened to them, even though some of the things I've come across give me nightmares. Too damned curious for my own good I guess."
"Mmm" mumbles Jo quietly.
"How about you?" asks Arabella. "What made you join SITU?"
"Oh, well" Jo shifts her weight uncomfortably. "I guess I was...well, I was in Desert Storm, you see, and our column got hit, and I was injured. I suppose I was dying, I don't know. All I know is I saw... forget it. You wouldn't believe me if I told you. It's over now anyway. Medically unfit for service, and that's true enough." She rubs her leg, and smiles ruefully. "I wouldn't like to have to rely on me in a combat situation."
Arabella is just about to protest her interest when Dr. Hernandez walks over. He is sweating somewhat, and his eyes flick nervously towards Jo.
"This is Jo, a good friend of mine." Arabella watches his reaction, but he shows no sign of recognition. "How are you today, doctor?"
"Very well, thank you Professor. Just fine, if a little nervous. Please don't think me rude, but allow me to move straight to the point. I am the archaeologist who has been employed to host the equinox celebrations at Chichen Itza this year, and you have been talking about thefts and a Cukulcan ritual. The equinox celebration has always been dedicated to Cukulcan. Elaborate for me."
Outside the streets are dusty and quiet. Rupert and his two mercenaries are standing on the street by the museum's main window, keeping a distant eye on goings on inside.
"You're going to have to keep an eye on my companions for me" explains Rupert to his men. "They're really very careless. At least we're getting the chance to see some really boring relics, eh?" Octavio doesn't respond, his glum gaze following the conversation inside.
"Octavio, my friend" Rupert taps him on the shoulder. "Are you any relation to these Roman emperors, or is it just the way you walk?" The Mexican frowns and looks to Marcos for assistance. Marcos shrugs.
"Que?" comes Octavio's gravelled response.
"Never mind," reassures Rupert. "Only joking."
Unnoticed at the far end of the street, two men watch Rupert joke with his partners. A Mayan and his younger companion stay within the shadows of a doorway.
Inside the museum, Arabella cautiously outlines some of what she knows about the ceremony.
"The thefts of artefacts have all involved items that are connected to Cukulcan, but we've discovered rather more. All the stolen artefacts are linked back to one particular place and time. They were all found or connected to the most modern area of excavation at El Castillo in Chichen Itza, amidst the temple ruins. This means that they were all in or around the temple when it was destroyed.
"Now, that temple was the central temple of Cukulcan for the Chichen Maya. We know that just before it was destroyed, the people would have tried to call upon their god for assistance. Evidence of this behaviour pattern is found in almost all conquered city sites. However, we know that this ceremony is going to be repeated tomorrow. We know that it involves the blood sacrifice of the son of the king, and we think that the king is Governor Comos. We also know that the Zapatistas are planning something big, something that they're calling a 'publicity stunt', and that they've captured his son. The police have been saying all along that the thefts bore Zapatista hallmarks. We all thought that was political posturing, until recently.
"That's essentially what we believe, and what I was trying to tell you when last we met. Your telegram said you might have information that would help us. I've kept my bargain. Will you tell us what you know?"
Hernandez wipes the sweat from his brow. After Arabella's monologue, his face has assumed a haunted pallor. "God help me, I am going to have to tell you what I know. I simply pray that you're wrong, but I cannot rely on prayer."
"Not here, doctor, not here. Let's go back to our hotel. You can meet the others and we can talk things through together."
Hernandez gulps nervously.
"It's like this," begins Hernandez, a stiff tequila from the hotel's bar in his hand.
"Mexico's in a terrible state, it really is. I grew up in Chiapas, where it's much worse than this. I've made the mistake of saying things like this to the wrong people, and I made the mistake of getting my opinions published. That got me thrown out of my university, and so I moved away from social issues towards archaeology. I still get the petty little jobs, though, like playing host for the tourists at Chichen Itza." He smiles ruefully. "I have to arrange the entire site, you know. Ticket sales, passes, everything.
"Back in Chiapas, when I was writing about what was going on there, I met a few people who really were fighting for some social change. I made some friends, but I lost contact when I moved out here. Dangerous people to be seen to know I guess, though it didn't occur to me until afterwards that I hadn't been discrete. Zapatistas. Anyway a while back, this man gets in touch. He calls himself Jose Panza, and mentions a few old names. He says that they're starting to campaign in the Yucatan, and would I like to help. I was nervous about it, obviously, but you've got to understand, I feel so desperately that we've all got a responsibility to help each other, and the poorest people need my help the most.
"Jose said that they wouldn't get me into any trouble. All they wanted me to do was to make sure that they could get into the Equinox ceremony. They had a plan, and they had an agreement with the Chichen. I've been to Solula, I've seen how desperately poor they are there, so it made sense. They just wanted me to arrange for there to be a proper Mayan religious display put on for the tourists. The Zapas would use it as a platform for their ideas, presenting themselves to the world, tourists, journalists, and so on. Jose also reckoned that he could get the locals on his side if he could represent the Zapas as linked in with the past, and with destiny. That's how he put it.
"It seemed harmless enough, and making the arrangements was easy enough. The authorities were very keen on putting a show on for the tourists, but they thought the Mayans wouldn't agree. They did agree, of course. I met up with Jose and with his friend Hacavitz a few times, discussing a few details. Nothing of consequence.
"I just let everything happen, and when the crunch came, I was just planning to look shocked and act as if I hadn't expected a thing. I started to get cold feet, though. I realised that everyone would blame me if the ceremony went wrong, even if they thought I was an unwitting idiot. I told Jose that I didn't want to go ahead with things, that I thought it wouldn't be possible, and that we should forget it. Then some men smashed my site up, broke my finds, and left a note reminding me that they had information about my past that might fall into the wrong hands. I told Lazla that I thought my site had been robbed. He believed me."
Hernandez takes a quick slug of his tequila, orders another, and shuts his eyes.
"Then you came along. At first, I didn't notice the connection. You strode right onto my dig and started talking about cultists, thefts and demanding that I give you answers to what sounded like lunatic questions. It was only really when Professor Robyns talked to me about the Cukulcan ceremony, and the thefts, that I started to have suspicions. I didn't say anything then, of course. I wanted to check things out for myself.
"I looked at the theft reports, and saw the connection - all with the temple of Cukulcan at Chichen Itza. I telephoned Jose, and asked him about them, and he said 'not to worry', and so I became worried. Then there was all this furore in the papers about the Zapatistas kidnapping Simon Comos. I became very worried. And so I wrote my telegram. I'm afraid I don't know where the stolen artefacts are. I don't know what I ought to do." He turns his wrist and looks at his watch. "In sixteen hours, I'm supposed to be at the top of El Castillo, microphone in hand."
Dr. Hernandez gulps down his second tequila and buries his head in his hands.
"What the hell am I going to do?"