Monk was walking from the kitchen to the living room when the phone rang. Lea was in town, so he grabbed the phone.
"Andrew Mayfair?" a male voice asked. "Monk Mayfair?"
"Yeah," he growled. "Watcha want?"
"Please listen closely," the voice said in an even monotone. "The Valley of the Vanished is in danger. I repeat, the Valley of the Vanished is in danger." Click.
"Oh, terrific ... another crank call," he commented, hanging up the phone. As he walked away, he froze in mid-step, then looked back at the telephone. "Blazes," he whispered, then picked up the phone again.
Three minutes later, he dialed another number; it rang several times before being answered. "Clark speaking."
"Doc? It's Monk. Lissen -- I just got a weird phone call. Mysterious caller, enigmatic message, the whole shebang. Nothin' we haven't heard before. But he said that the Valley of the Vanished was in danger."
There was a pause, then Clark asked, "Could you trace the call?"
"Naw. Both Caller ID and Last Number Redial came up empty. Could've been a cell phone outside'a the country."
"The last I knew, very few people outside of us were conscious of the existence of the Valley," commented Clark. "Is this still true?"
"Yeah," Monk replied. "I've never heard it brought up apart from the team, and I don't think any of us would try to trick you with ... with ... unless ...?"
Clark had arrived at the same conclusion. "Pat?"
"I don't know," he sighed. "Remember that news story I showed ya? Seems like Patty'd be a little busy right now, dont'cha think?"
"Agreed. But, then again, there is the temptation of the gold."
"Holy cow! I think you've got a point." He paused. "Doc, you better give 'em a buzz and see what you can find out."
"That I shall," replied Clark. "I'll get back to you."
It was a decades-old ritual, passed down through the generations of his family line. John Blue Corn was the latest one to wear the mantle of responsibility.
The tanned Mayan native looked to the sky and smiled as he walked to the special hut. Behind him and to his right was his youngest son, Harvest Moon, following respectfully. The hut at the end of the path held a mystic holiness that made the monotony bearable, even pleasurable. It contained the sacred shortwave radio that the great Clark Savage, Jr. had brought in the days of his grandfathers, that connected their Valley with the Man of Bronze. He beamed with pride. He had been the first one to speak to him after fifty years of silence, and had been blessed with the honor of relaying the news to the people. It was a great time of rejoicing.
He entered the hut and sat down before the radio. His son sat on the floor next to the wall, attentively watching his father switch on the apparatus. John Blue Corn closed his eyes. The whine of the ancient machine, and the hiss of the static, was like music to the Mayan's ears. To him, it was the sound of heaven visiting this small room.
Then the heavens opened, and father and son heard the voice. His eyes snapping open wide, John Blue Corn took the microphone in his hand. With his thumb poised over the TRANSMIT key, he turned to his son and commanded, "Run like the wind, and tell the Queen -- Doc Savage calls!"
There was no hesitation as the boy burst from the hut and down the pathway.
Alone, John Blue Corn looked at the microphone. He had been told to expect this call, and had been told precisely what words to say. But they did not tell him that it would hurt so. After a moment, he pressed the key down and spoke clearly in his native language. "We acknowledge you, Clark Savage Jr. Please stand by." Releasing the key, he sighed a labored breath, and waited.
Seconds later, the bronze-haired woman who appeared from the skies stopped at the doorway. She had been running. He reported to her, "He waits. Shall I continue?"
"Yes," she answered, slightly out of breath. "Do exactly as you have been told."
The native sadly nodded, and spoke into the microphone with clear precision. "Clark Savage, Jr. Please be informed, there will be no gold. The contract between you and the people of the Valley has been dissolved by order of Queen Monja. You will have to reestablish the contract in person." He paused. "Do you understand?"
There was silence for several seconds. Then came the response: "I understand. I will come."
"There will be no further radio contact," said the native. "Over and out."
He released the key on the microphone, and switched off the shortwave radio without waiting for a response. Hiding his pain behind a facade of formality, he turned to the woman and announced, "It is accomplished."
She smiled at him. "You have done well."
John Blue Corn silently disagreed with her.
Clark switched off the shortwave set. There was no point in trying to reestablish contact; they had made their declaration clear. He took a deep breath and released it in a heavy sigh, leaned back in the seat and crossed his arms.
If a curious passer-by had chanced upon the camper van at that time, they would've considered its sole occupant to be slightly eccentric, talking to himself like that. But Clark was praying. Ever since becoming a Christian, he found his most productive times, where he could concentrate on matters and commune in the Lord, were in the privacy of the camper van. There he could speak aloud, as man to man, where there was no need for emotional restraint before one's Creator.
"Lord, I don't understand why she's doing this to me?" he asked, throwing up his hands. "She was the one who chose to abuse the silphium as she has, yet she blames me for the consequences!" He sighed heavily. "But that's a moot point now. Somehow she's persuaded them to withhold the gold from us, to lure me to the Valley of the Vanished. Of course it's a trap, but what choice do I have but to walk into it? On the one hand, if I choose not to go there at all, the Institute will never be completed. However, if I go there alone, she's certain to take me prisoner, and fulfill her evil desires. Is that what You want, Lord?" He paused, seeking an answer. "Considering the last time we ... clashed ... it's highly unlikely she would be there alone. More likely is that she would bring reinforcements, guards or other troops."
He lapsed into silence for several minutes. Then he looked up at the ceiling and declared, "I don't want to! I don't want to endanger anyone else as a result of my affairs. But the only way to go there with any possible hope of success is to go there with an equal or superior force or with an equal or superior advantage. And not knowing what she has with her, who's to say what is the number of her force? Besides, that means that others have to be involved. I really don't want to include them, subject them to potential danger. But ... I have no choice."
His head suddenly echoed with Bible verses: 'Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.' 'The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.' 'Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.' 'Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you.'
That last verse caused Clark to groan within himself, as his mind flashed back to a time over a year ago. "Okay, Lord," he surrendered. "You've made Your point."
Then more verses came to mind: 'Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.'
Clark understood. "For me to go into the Valley of the Vanished without some sort of backup would be suicide, and that's not what You have in mind. Very well ... my job is to ask, Your job is to make it work. 'In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.'"
Just then, a knock came to the door of the camper van. "Clark, it's Renny."
Clark opened the door and stepped down. He stretched his big frame in the open air.
"You've been cooped up inside of there for some time. What's up?"
"It appears that Pat may be in the Valley of the Vanished, and has somehow persuaded them to stop the flow of gold."
His expression was pained. "Holy cow! So what does she want now?"
"Me, it seems," he replied. "Alone."
"It's a trap, Doc!" the big man exclaimed.
Clark was calm. "Yes, I know. Therefore the best course of action is that I come in directly, alone, while a backup group enters covertly and deals with the threat."
"Who do you have in mind?"
"All of us ... whoever's interested." He shrugged his shoulders. "What about you?"
There was hesitation in the big man. "I'll join you in the planning, but I don't think Amanda would do well with me being part of the actual action. I'm sorry."
Clark placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Don't be, old friend. Times have changed, and our priorities with them. But I will need your help in the planning stage."
"You've got it! Y'know, when I was on the run, I found a couple of superfirers in an old cache. I'll see if I can find them, and if they're usable."
Clark nodded. "Good. We'll take all we can get. We're also going to need a way of bringing us together during the planning stage."
Renny nodded. "Yeah. No headquarters and scattered about the country." He paused, then his eyes opened wide. "But I think I might have an idea. Y'ever heard of telephone conferencing?"
He nodded. "When we were looking for you, Johnny and I arranged one with Monk."
"If you're interested, I know someone who can set up one on this scale."
Clark nodded. "Continue."
"Her name's Nancy, and she's part of the crew that set up the electronics for the admin trailers. You remember how Long Tom could take one look at an electronics nightmare and instinctively know how to straighten it out?"
Clark nodded appreciatively. "He was the best."
"Well, it looks like Nancy's cut from the same mold. She takes to electronics like a duck takes to water." He suddenly broke into a grin. "Anyhow, she's working her way through college, and she could use the money. She's a great kid, and I'll vouch for her."
Clark nodded. "Very well. I should know how many are going to be in on this by tomorrow. Have her come by the trailer after that."
"Mr. Dent? I'm Nancy," she greeted, accompanied by a grin. She stood 5'5" and didn't look like she could tip the scales over 100 pounds. Her wiry frame was topped with a mound of dark brown hair, perfectly accenting her brown eyes. She wore jeans and a denim shirt, and the headphones of her Walkman had been lowered to behind her neck. She carried a hard-side tool bag, and Clark could see that she was stronger than she appeared.
Clark asked her into the admin trailer, and they walked back to the inner room with the large-screen television. "What did Ivan tell you?" he asked as they sat.
"Just that you wanted to put together a phone conference, and you needed somebody to make it work."
"Good. We'll be receiving signals from seven locations: besides ourselves, there are two in Oregon, one in Oklahoma, one in Vermont, and one in Tennessee."
She nodded. "Piece of cake," she said eagerly.
For the next twenty minutes, they talked about the project. She was attentive, asking an occasional clarifying question, and making notes on a steno pad across her skinny lap. Clark could see that she had a passion for her profession, which he respected and admired.
Once they were done, Clark issued her a debit card on the Institute's account, which would more than cover the cost of her expenses. Overflowing with enthusiasm, she stood and shook Clark's massive hand, then left the trailer with her steno pad.