Pat's eyes snapped opened as she woke from her nap. Instinctively looking to her watch, she noticed that several hours had passed. We must be very close, she thought, as she unfastened her seat belt and stretched.
"Mornin', boss," greeted Ron Balboa. He and Hal Mason were engaged in a game of chess. "Sleep well?"
She managed a smile. "Yes ... thank you," she lied, moving to the Osprey's lavatory. As she splashed water on her face, she tried to press past the images of her dream. She took a couple of deep breaths and returned to her seat in the cabin.
She cracked open Johnny's book on Mayan culture. Very helpful, she thought. Then her eyes landed on a word, and she froze. She blinked hard a couple of times and stared at the word.
Suddenly the images of her dream returned to her. Scenes of human sacrifice.
The first scene was of an old man, unfamiliar to her, and a young boy. By the look of the clothing and location, she guessed it to be centuries in the past, somewhere in the Middle Eastern desert. The old man was leading the young boy, his son (although how she knew that she hadn't a clue) up a winding mountain trail. On their pack animal was wood and materials for building an altar for burnt offerings. They barely spoke a word as they worked, finding the place, and assembling the sacrificial altar. Then the strangest thing happened, as the old man bound the hands and feet of the young boy, and placed him across the altar. He was going to sacrifice his son! The boy could've easily overpowered the old man, but he allowed himself to be placed in position. Her heart beat faster as the old man took out the knife that would take the peaceful boy's life, and raised it for the killing stroke.
She never saw the knife fall.
The next scene was stranger still, and terrified her. It was she who was on her back, bound hand and foot upon a stone altar. Thrashing about, she saw that she was at the top of the golden pyramid in the Valley of the Vanished, as she had recalled it. She struggled, but was unable to get free. Then there was a Mayan priest in full ceremonial garb standing at her side, a golden dagger in his upraised hands, poised to take her life. She screamed and struggled, but it had no effect on the executioner.
But then the scene swiftly changed. It was she who held the knife high now, and it was her cousin laid upon the altar. However, he didn't struggle as she did, but lay still as the boy did, waiting patiently. She thought he had been drugged, but the look on his face showed he was completely cognizant of the situation, his expression incomprehensibly peaceful. Then her hands -- with the knife -- came down in a single decisive thrust which plunged the blade deep into her cousin's chest. There was a sickening thunk, and the appearance of blood. Her cousin didn't make a sound, but shuddered once and simply died.
That final image echoed in her mind, as she woke from her dream.
"Boss!" she heard, snapping her back to reality.
"Yes?" she responded to the call from the cockpit.
"We're approaching the chasm you told us about," called Sykes.
Pat's adrenalin kicked in. She quickly moved forward, and recognized the familiar rock formations. "Yes! Good! The winds are going to get rough, but stay the course." As if on cue, the airplane abruptly shuddered with turbulence.
Without saying another word, Pat moved back to the cabin. The chess set had been upset by the last jolt, and the two guards were hastily rounding up the pieces. "Get into your seats now!" she ordered. "And strap in!"
The two men abandoned their round-up and took their places. The aircraft took another jolt, and they were driven into their chairs.
Seconds passed. The Osprey shook and shifted like a drunken man, and the only sounds were between the pilot and co-pilot as they coordinated their flight, and the roar of the winds around them. Balboa looked out his window at the sheer walls of the chasm and released a few surprised profanities. It was like being in a monstrous carnival ride, or a human Lotto ball.
Then it was over as swiftly as it had arrived. For a few moments, everyone concentrated on the exchange from the cockpit, hoping not to hear anything wrong. Finally, the report came back. "We made it! How's everybody back here?"
Everyone acknowledged the fact that they had survived their ordeal.
Pat released her harness and moved forward. As she did, the two guards also unstrapped and finished their recovery of the chess set, now widely scattered about the area.
The chasm had opened into an egg-shaped valley encompassed by high mountains with snow-dusted peaks.
"Okay," announced Pat. "We're here! It's a sure bet we're being watched, so let's keep it nice and friendly. Maintain a casual speed, and let's circle around a bit just to let them know we're not an immediate threat to them."
The flight crew acknowledged the order, and brought the Osprey into a high circle near the edge of the valley, giving them all a chance to get a good look at their destination.
The Valley of the Vanished hadn't changed since she had last been here. No surprise there, considering how many centuries they had existed here. The beauty of the area was breathtaking, and she could see the distinct signs of civilization below. She spotted the palace, where several figures stood observing them. And there was the golden pyramid -- tall and majestic in the sunlight.
"There," she pointed. "Do you think you can set us down on that flat area next to the pyramid?"
"There seems to be enough room," replied Sykes. "Yes."
"Good." She put a hand on his shoulder. "And ... make sure we have plenty of room between us and the pyramid. That thing is sacred to these people, and they wouldn't think well of us if we did anything to it."
"No, ma'am," he agreed. "I'll give us plenty of elbow room."
Leaving the crew to their task, Pat walked back to the cabin. "We're getting set to land," she announced as she strapped into her seat.
Skillful hands maneuvered the Osprey into a lazy arc, bringing them over the golden icon. They hovered briefly as the engines tilted into position, then descended slowly and cautiously onto the mesa. They hesitated just before touchdown, then landed with slight bounce.
The two pilots glanced at each other, then gave a spontaneous high-five.
Pat addressed the group, "Okay. The next move's up to them. Let's see what they do. Stay cool, but be ready for anything."
The guards were already at work. Mason was scanning the area with binoculars while Balboa loaded a pair of automatic rifles.
"They seem to be mighty curious at us, ma'am," observed Mason. "They're closing in from all sides, but I think they're too scared to get close."
"I'm not surprised. I'd guess that most of the people out there have never seen an airplane in their lives. Any movement from the palace?"
"If you mean the fancy building off by itself, yes. Now it looks like a delegation of sorts is moving in our direction. It's a small group, with a lady in the lead. Grey hair under a headdress that looks like royalty."
"Good. Does she show any fear?"
"No, ma'am. None that I can see."
Pat smiled. Her estimation of the situation was correct, and Monja was queen. "Very good. Prepare to open the door and lower the steps. Do not give any indication of hostility."
"Should we stick close as a show of force?" asked Balboa.
Pat thought a moment, then shook her head. "No, I don't think we'll need it. But ... if you hear me yell or scream, you know what to do."
"Yes, ma'am," they chimed in unison.
Pat straightened herself, and walked to the door. On cue, it was opened, and the steps extended. She stood at the top of the steps and looked out at the pyramid and the ornate items at the edge of the mesa. She was glad their landing hadn't damaged anything, as she gracefully stepped down onto the mesa. Glancing about her, she saw that she had the attention of several hundred natives from the nearby village.
The delegation approached from her right. She could see the face of the woman in the lead, and confirmed it as Monja. The years had taken their toll on her, but she was still very beautiful. Her long flowing hair -- once jet black -- was now the color of silken silver.
She approached with quiet dignity, raised a hand in salute, and addressed her in English. "I bring you greetings. I am Queen Monja, ruler of this Valley."
Pat returned the gesture. "I also bring you greetings, daughter of Chaac. I am Patricia Savage, cousin of Clark Savage, Jr." She hoped that the name-dropping would give her credibility.
Monja's expression became curious. "I remember you. But that was many years ago. You ... you are still young?"
She smiled in response. "I can explain, but not here. I am glad you remember me."
"Why do you come to the Valley of the Vanished, Patricia?" Her tone suddenly took on a strong degree of concern. "Is Doc well?"
She was right about Monja's feelings for her cousin. She nodded sadly. "Physically, yes. But there is more. We should talk in private."
Monja hesitated a moment, then said, "Very well. We will go to the palace. In the meantime, you are welcome." She noticed others in the airplane. "These are your friends?"
"They work for me. They are loyal to me. They mean no harm."
"As long as this is so, they are welcome. They may join us."
She turned to the guards and pilot crew. "Okay, you heard her. Leave the guns in the plane; I don't think we'll need them. Then follow us. Keep a low profile." They responded with nods and words of acknowledgment.
Pat turned back to Monja. "They will be right behind us. Thank you for your hospitality."
With Queen Monja and Pat in the lead, the group secured the Osprey and moved away from the mesa, heading down the wide pathway to the palace. There was much jungle growth about, and many people followed them out of curiosity. Pat was amazed at how beautiful everyone around here looked. Due to the natural preserving elements around them, and the lack of the pollution of the 'civilized world,' she regretfully concluded that her cosmetics would find very few takers.
Monja was a prime example. Her face showed very few wrinkles, and she could've passed for twenty years younger than her advanced years. Pat admired that. No wonder Doc had found her such a prize, she mused, as they reached the clearing around the palace.
Monja motioned to a man in her entourage, who was instantly at her side. She gave him several instructions in Mayan -- unintelligible to Pat -- and returned to his place in the ranks.
Monja explained, "I have instructed Running Elk to escort your servants to suitable quarters in the palace. He speaks English."
"Thank you." She relayed the instructions to the guards and flight crew, who followed the Mayan into the palace.
"Patricia," said Monja. "If it well with you, we can walk about while you tell me what you have come here for."
"That would be fine."
As they walked about the area, Pat unveiled her story. "I'm afraid to say that Doc is ... not well. He has changed much in the years since you saw him last."
"Yes. There had been many years of silence, and we had wondered if he had crossed over to the other side. When we heard his voice after so long, we rejoiced greatly."
"Yes," Pat acknowledged. "But there is more. Doc had been in ... hiding ... for many years. I don't know what happened to him during all those years, but his mind had been changed. Before we knew it, he tried to kill our President and assume control of the United States. Many people died that day. It was very tragic." She lowered her head, taking on an appropriately saddened expression. "He's somehow been deceived, and seeks to conquer the world if he cannot be stopped."
Monja had frozen in step, her features pale with shock. "This is horrible! How can I help?"
Pat was thrilled to see that her scheme was working. She continued, "He's been using the gold from this Valley to fund his nefarious plans. This is why I'm here, to persuade you to stop the flow of gold, and lure him here. I feel that, if we could hold him to reason with him, he could be persuaded to end his mad scheme."
"Yes. There is compassion in your words, Patricia. I agree with you, he would not hurt us here. How can we help?"
"He will be calling here soon, possibly requesting more gold. Refuse him, and tell him that he must come to the Valley at once."
"I will instruct my people in what you say," nodded the Mayan queen. "We will succeed in this."
Carrying a glass of port wine, Franklin returned to his room and checked the display on his computer. It took him only a few moments to realize that the icon representing the Osprey had stopped in a remote location within the mountains of Central America. Refueling? he thought, and dismissed it. His next thought was that the Osprey had crashed, but he dismissed both the thought and the panic that accompanied it.
"She's there," he concluded with a grin, and reached for his cell phone.
Woodward answered, "Operator Seven."
He assumed the same bass voice as before. "This is the Game Warden. The eagle has taken roost."
"Where are you located?" she asked, and he could hear the excitement in her tone.
He slowly read off the coordinates from the computer screen, and repeated them once for good measure. "Do you copy, Operator Seven?"
"Yes, I do. Thank you very much." And she disconnected the call.
Franklin leaned back in his office chair and lifted his glass to the screen. "To success!"
Woodward sat on the bunk at the rear of the RV, with a map stretched across a small table. After a couple of calculations, she made a pencil mark on the map. Sliding past the table, she made her way forward, quietly passing a couple of women fast asleep in chairs. The passenger seat at the very front was unoccupied, and she took it.
"Was that your contact, Jill?" asked Bonnie Clayton. Her hair had been formed into a long braid, and the end curled over her left shoulder.
"Yes," she replied, swiveling to face the road ahead. They had made excellent time, and were somewhere between El Paso and Austin, having passed through three states already. "Pat's Osprey has landed. The coordinates put her in a mountainous area of Central America. I'll show you on the map when we make camp."
"Okay. You going to contact Alana?"
She nodded. "Uh huh. I'll let her know we'll meet her in Tampa day after tomorrow."
Woodward sat back and relaxed in the seat, looking out at the Texas landscape.
There'd been a slight controversy over how best to transport the women, their equipment, and the weapons they'd be needing, coast-to-coast, with the least risk of police intrusion.
In the end, they couldn't dispute the logic of a convoy. They had passenger cars, pickups, heavy trucks, and the used RV that was being used as their command center, and it was an ironic reflection of themselves -- a rag-tag bunch of misfits on a quest.
As her eyelids grew heavy, she smiled with relief that Danny had finally called her. She'd missed him, she thought. He'd been a real encouragment in her life, and might make good husband material once this was all over. She rested her head on the back of the chair, and her breathing slowly relaxed.
Clayton glanced over at her friend, and smiled. "Sleep well, Jill."