The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Three Faces Of God
16th July 6pm
The maid's footsteps have died away before anyone speaks. "Well, kids," TR murmurs, "here's where the fun begins. We need to figure out whether Hernandez is "you-know-who" and we need to do it without him guessing what we're doing. I can try asking him about procedures that only a person with archaeological training would know. I don't know if that will work - Tez might have picked up knowledge over the last six months if he has been posing as Hernandez."
"Do what you like." Martyn Aberg gets up, scowling. "I've had it with you all and if Blaize thinks I'm going to settle down into a nice, cosy team he's wrong." He throws a box on the table - the anti-dubhium darts from SITU. "Do what you like," he repeats. "I'm leaving."
Belle-Marie gets up and hurries out after him. The others sit and look at each other in silence, Sean quickly pocketing the box of darts. Martin Keyes stares at the floor, carefully avoiding eye contact with anyone.
"The only thing that will draw Astrid Ahuan out is the skull," he says. No one speaks and he looks up. "I suppose you are all wondering whose side I am on?" He flashes a smile around the room. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, I promised her I would get the skull. I told her I would not do anything to hurt our Sean, what with him saving my life an' all. And I learned that if she gets the skull that SITU and every other advantage we have will probably go down the loo. But, I think she's got us right where we want her." He smiles broadly.
The others look at him curiously.
"Would you care to explain that?" Eric asks gently.
There is no time. Another rap at the door announces Hernandez's arrival.
"You don't have to go," Belle-Marie insists. "We all understand why you went for Sean - the way he's been behaving it's a wonder no one's tried it before." She smiles nervously. "You have to admit it was a bit of a shock for us - you've always been so steady before, nothing seemed to bother you at all. But we still trust you."
Aberg's eyes narrow. "Really? All of you?"
"All of us," Belle agrees firmly. Her mouth sets in a straight line. "I don't consider Sean a member of the team anymore."
Martyn hesitates then shrugs indifferently. "That's your problem, not mine. As far as I'm concerned, I'm no longer a member of the 'team'."
She looks as if she intends following him again and he glares at her until she gives up. She goes back to join the others, feeling despondent. Why couldn't it have been Sean who decided to leave?
Belle-Marie slips into the room after Hernandez and sits down next to Steven, deliberately avoiding Sean's gaze. Everyone is still there, she notes. A pity. She wonders how readily Hernandez will let something slip with six people staring at him.
"So, Dr Hernandez, why did you want to see us?" Eric asks.
"An urgent business." The archaeologist sits forward, clasping his hands together. "The museum was due to host an exhibition of crystal skulls next month. Jaime de Reconvaco had agreed to loan us one of his collection. Now we have had word that he is missing and the skull too. Knowing your interest in the skulls, I thought you might know of its whereabouts."
"I'm afraid not," Eric says politely after a pause. "Reconvaco is missing, you say? When did you hear this?"
"Just this morning. No doubt he will reappear again when he wants to, but we were counting on the skull as the central point of the exhibition." He sighs. "Never mind. How is your investigation going here?"
"Well enough." Steven answers cautiously. "We can't discuss any details, of course."
"Of course, of course." If Hernandez is offended he doesn't show it. "I'm sure the powers that be will fill me in in the end. Always good to keep up to date with what's happening. You expect to be staying in Mexico for much longer?"
"We really have no idea."
"Enjoying your stay?"
"It's very interesting indeed." TR looks up at him. "Which reminds me, while you're here I wanted to ask about something I saw at the museum the other day. The pottery in room 15 - some fascinating things there. How was it all reconstructed. Was it the Meyers' technique?"
"The pottery?" Hernandez frowns a moment. "Well, there are a number of techniques as you know, reconstruction is such a tricky job. But, yet, the Meyers' technique was used among others."
TR nods. "It is one of the better methods."
Hernandez looks around then glances at his watch. "Well, it is getting late. I don't want to take up any more of your time. Do let me know if you find anything out, won't you?"
"If we find the skull we'll let you know," Sean promises.
"Thank you. Much appreciated."
TR shuts the door firmly behind him and waits a few minutes before turning to the others.
"So we know two things," he says quietly. "One, Hernandez wants the skull. Two, if he is Hernandez he has an appalling grasp of basic archaeological techniques. There's no such thing as a Meyers' technique - I made it up."
"I don't believe Astrid," Sean grumbles. As far as he can see, they've spent the past days stumbling around blind without ever finding out what is really going on. "She says she can find Keyes here wherever he is, so she can travel if she wants to, so if there's not enough of a power base here, why doesn't one of the Ylids just leave Mexico? She wants the skull because of the information she thinks she'll get - but just what information do we have? Very little, I'd have thought."
"But she doesn't necessarily know that," Steve points out. "TR, are we sure Hernandez is Tezcat?"
TR nods. "As sure as we can be. Sean, you saw him on your last mission here, didn't you? What if you went to the morgue and checked the body there - you could tell them you're there to pay your last respects to Lalina or something. That would tell us once and for all."
Sean nods slowly. "It should be easy enough."
"Good. The next thing then, assuming Hernandez is Tezcat, is to set up a meeting between him and Ahuan. The best way is probably to arrange a time with each of them separately to meet at the same location." He looks around the others for signs of agreement. Belle-Marie nods.
"We know they both want the skull," she says. "That should be enough of a lure to get them both there."
"What about you, Marty?" Steven asks. "Would you be willing to help kill Ahuan, given your - uh - relationship with her? And, more to the point, are you in communication with her telepathically. If so, you'd better go and wait outside now."
Keyes grins and shakes his head. "No, I will not pull the trigger. But that's no change in me. I'm a thief, not a killer. As to communication, I believe she can talk to me anywhere, but I can't answer. She can't read my mind. We know that's true because the mission would be over already. Anyway," he continues, "the key here is that we can't let her or Tezcat touch a skull that any of us have touched. We still have to assume that Tezcat could be anyone and therefore only those of us who flew in for the mission can touch one, no exceptions. Tezcat may not reveal himself unless he thinks Ahuan's going to get the skull. I suggest our Sean and I obtain the skull, for real this time, and bring it someplace to meet Ahuan. She knows our Sean's a killer and having us both where she can see us might just relax her. That means someone else will have to use the dart gun."
"Sean's going to have a busy day," Sean mutters. But he doesn't offer to relinquish the dart gun and no one else offers to take it."
"Once we get the meeting set up we should split into groups," TR suggests. "I'll go with Hernandez. Keyes, you have to go alone to lure Ahuan out, but Steven will be monitoring you. Eric, maybe you and Sean could try to recover the real skull, but, Sean, please try not to attack anyone unless they attack first."
Sean says nothing and TR turns to Belle-Marie. "You'd be useful in any of the groups. Take your pick."
"I'll stick with Steven," she decides without hesitation. Anyone except Sean, her expression seems to be saying.
"Belle-Marie." TR taps gently on her door before going in. "I wanted to ask you something. Listen, I know how you feel about Sean, but can you be persuaded to go along with him and Eric. Eric is a good man, but given his age, I doubt if he could do anything if Sean got out of hand. You seem pretty capable of taking care of yourself. You could probably be a big help to Eric."
"I don't think you come close to understanding how I feel about Sean," Belle-Marie snaps. "I despise his sort, just thinking he can come in and take over, wanting everything done his way, and treating us like we're only here to run errands for him. No. Sorry, TR, there's no way I'm going to put myself anywhere near that man again. He doesn't care about us as a team. He's likely to get us all killed."
"That's why I need you there," TR insists. "If he messes up, someone has to be there to pick up the pieces."
"It's not going to be me." She crosses her arms stubbornly.
"Think about it, anyway," TR urges.
Belle-Marie softens enough to smile. "All right, I'll think about it if you'll do something for me. I think some of us should talk to Martin, and it should be people who were with him in Oxford. If you will do that, I'll think about joining Eric and Sean."
"All right," TR agrees. Belle-Marie lets him go with a smile. Thinking about joining that arrogant son of a bitch is one thing. Actually agreeing to do it is something entirely different.
The morgue is quiet. Quiet as death, Sean thinks with a wry smile.
Easy enough to get in, too, with only minimal security. And no need to make up anything about wanting to see Lalina one last time.
The bodies are stored in the traditional fashion in long, pull-out drawers, labelled with the name of the deceased and date of birth and death. Sean runs his fingers along them all. He pauses when he comes to Lalina's name and passes over it. It wasn't her he came to see tonight.
The drawer next to hers is marked with a question mark, no name. Sean hesitates a fraction of a second then pulls it open. It slides out easily, the body lying in a stiff column, covered with a white sheet. Holding his breath, Sean lifts the sheet back.
The stench hits him at once, a reek of rot that makes his stomach twist. He swallows hard and makes himself look down. He has seen worse before, he reminds himself.
But not much worse. Badly decomposed, but not enough to hide the livid burns that cover the corpse from the waist up. It is as if he is looking at a piece of meat that has been cooked and then left to go rotten. Sean looks for a long time before he lowers the sheet and slides the drawer silently back.
There is no doubt at all in his mind. The police have failed to identify the body, because they wouldn't expect it to be the body of a man who is walking around alive. And besides, it is so badly burned, so badly rotted, that the resemblance is minimal. Minimal, but enough.
It is Hernandez. Sean is convinced of it.
"Pardon me," Eric says in Spanish, "I was wondering if you could help me. I was part of the group that was attacked in the caves just the other day, and I was very much hoping some more of my belongings may have come to light."
"Belongings? What belongings?" The policeman looks bored, filling in a form absent-mindedly as he talks.
"Camera, wallet, a couple of souvenir items. One of those crystal skull things, you know. It looked very authentic." Eric laughs softly. "I paid a lot of money for it. The shopkeeper told me it would bring me luck."
The policeman pushes the form aside. "I am glad I do not have your luck, senor. I am sorry, nothing has been found. The fact is, there is a lot of stone fall, much rubble to be moved, and the whole area is very unstable now. It will take many experts many weeks to clear the cave enough to find anything. I fear your possessions are lost. I hope you are insured, Senor."
"Oh yes, adequately." Eric leans across the counter slightly. "I understand from the news that two bodies were uncovered there when you began your search. You don't suppose whoever attacked us was responsible too, do you?" He allows an appropriate amount of alarm into his voice. "They could have been using the caves as a hideout, murdering tourists and hiding their bodies. I dread to think what would have happened if we hadn't escaped when we did."
"But you did escape, so all is well, yes? Except for your possessions, of course. We are clearing the caves slowly, sir, so if we find anything we will tell you at once. As for your concerns about the gang who did this, I do not think they have been operating for long. I will tell you in confidence that of the bodies we found, we have identified one and that was not a tourist but a resident of Merida. Also, there is no record of tourists disappearing. No, I do not think it is the work of an organised group." He looks at Eric with some measure of sympathy. "It is not a good introduction to our country for you, senor. A bad thing to happen, and it will not happen again."
Eric straightens up and smiles. "Thank you, that reassures me. Good day to you."
"Good day, Senor. Oh, Senor if you plan any more trips to the caves, take a guide and stay to the parts that are marked as safe."
Martin Keyes is preparing for his foray into the museum when Steven and TR find him.
"How are you?" Steven asks without preamble, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
Martin gives him a quizzical look. "Fine. How are you?" He looks from Steven to TR. "Is this just a social visit or did you have something in mind."
"We were worried," Steven says. "Ever since Oxford "
"Fuck Oxford." Martin's voice hardens. "You saw the SITU briefing, you know what I am. A bloody experiment, that's all. Some idiots messing about with genetic manipulation. Well, they ended up with me and serve them right." Suddenly as it came, the mood passes. He grins at the two of them ruefully. "Not to worry, eh? Is Sean back from the morgue yet?"
"On his way," TR tells him. "It is Hernandez."
"That makes things easier." Keyes pushes himself to his feet. "If you'll excuse me, I've got to get my things sorted out here. I have a skull to steal."
"Are you sure you actually need to steal it?" Steven asks. Keyes gives him an uncomprehending look.
"Of course I have to steal it. I promised Astrid a skull, remember? What sort of a man would I be if I didn't keep my promises?"
"The main improvement to the skull's security is the case it is in," Keyes whispers to Sean. "It eliminates the need for guards, and it is impregnable to my kind of art - but not yours."
The museum's external defences remain a hodgepodge of unconnected systems. One by one, Keyes gets them through them: a locked, steel door, an inner door, various movement sensors, a pair of video cameras, all neatly disabled. Working slowly, quietly, they make their way into the main display room and stand before the glass and steel cage that surrounds the crystal skull.
Not Quetzie, Keyes thinks, but close enough. He wonders for a moment whether the museum officials are beating him at his own game. Is the skull inside the case the real one, or have they substituted it for a replica? He steps towards it carefully, his breath tightening in his chest. No, this has to be the real thing. He can feel it - some undefined sense of menace that grows stronger the more he looks at it.
He turns to Sean. "You need enough explosive, placed correctly to shatter the cage and its trap-door defence " he starts to whisper. Sean is already working, setting a number of small devices around the case. He looks up, smiles tightly and utters one word.
They dive to the side of the room as the explosion goes off. The noise is deafeningly loud in the silence, and the silence buzzes back afterwards. No alarms - Keyes has disabled them all - but no doubt the police will be called by remote control. He hopes his earlier sabotage work on the traffic lights in the area will have created enough of a jam that they won't be able to get through in any hurry.
Raised voices come from outside the room. A final, thin wisp of smoke rises from around the broken case. Keyes grabs the skull and hauls himself up to the open window, Sean following. They make it outside just in time. A crowd is gathering outside and they join it, splitting up to make their separate ways back to the hotel as the familiar sound of police sirens fills the evening air.
The two men meet up again outside the hotel. Sean pauses. "I am going to kill Ahuan. Whatever you feel about her, it isn't going to make any difference."
Keyes shrugs, unconcerned, and calmly hands back a gun and a wallet. "I stole them while we were breaking into the museum," he explains. "I needed the practice. Don't worry about me boyo, Astrid will have no trouble eluding you without any help from me."
"The plan then is simple," TR says. "Keyes, you contact Ahuan and tell her we have the skull. Arrange to meet her at the factory where she was holding you prisoner. I'll contact Hernandez and tell him we've found a skull there. We'll split the team as appropriate with Sean ready to use the dart gun and Steven and I standing by with video equipment. Belle-Marie, you were most susceptible to Quetzie so I suggest you stay well back with Steven. We don't want you getting drawn into the blast."
"I can look after myself," she says. But she looks relieved as she agrees.
Last minute preparations. Sean carefully fills six hollow-tipped bullets with wax, breaks open one of the tiny darts with its anti-dubhium poison and injects two drops into each bullet. Just a back-up plan, he thinks, loading them into a separate gun and tucking it firmly into his shoulder holster. One last shot, just in case all else fails.
"A skull?" TR can hear the excitement in Hernandez's voice. "We had another break in at the museum tonight, you know. Our one remaining genuine skull taken. I'd be glad to look at what you've got. Yes, I know where the factory is. Shall we say seven-thirty tomorrow morning then. It'll be light by then."
In his sleep, Martin Keyes hears Astrid's voice.
"Marty, you said you would help me."
"And so I shall," he answers. "I have the skull you want. I'll bring it to you."
"When?" the question is eager.
"Tomorrow morning. Half past seven. I'll come to the factory."
Dawnlight floods the sky as the team's vehicle makes its way to the factory site. They are early, wanting to get there with time to set everything up before either of the Ylids puts in an appearance. Everyone is silent, Sean tense with anticipation, Eric regretful that this has to be done at all, the others in various stages of apprehension and determination.
"Everyone's wired up," Steven says as they arrive, "so we can all keep in touch. TR and I have got the recording equipment. Let's just hope that nothing goes wrong."
"What could go wrong?" Belle-Marie wonders.
"Funny you should say that," someone says. "Turn around slowly. That's it."
Two men walk into the open. One of them is Martyn Aberg. Red-faced and furious he struggles against the handcuffs that hold his arms behind his back.
The other man is Reconvaco.
Belle-Marie gasps. "Oh my God "
His face has been burned half away. Blackened skin flaps in thin strips from his chin. Only a few tufts of his hair remain. To Eric's eyes, his left arm appears to be broken in more than one place. But his gun is in his right hand and it is rock steady.
"Sean," he says with a smile, "I knew you'd come back here eventually. And you " his ruined gaze flicks in Keyes' direction. "Thinking you could ever take my place here. You're drawn to her as I was, aren't you? And it will do you no good."
"What do you want?" Sean asks.
Reconvaco laughs. The sound has a sharp edge of pain to it. "Isn't it obvious? I have some scores to settle. With you. With him." He looks at Keyes. "With her - thinking she could discard me without so much as a thank you. But first of all, you will give me the skull. You have got it, haven't you?" He puts the gun to the back of Aberg's head, shielding himself behind the big man's body. "The usual threats apply. I'll kill him if you don't."