I admit that Pierce’s telegram caught me by surprise when it arrived that summer. Then again, Pierce was never one for easing a man into something. She tended to throw one into the thick of it, and expect him to come to grips with it himself. It would be some time before I learned any of the details, but while it lacked anything that might be called context, the telegram itself was simple enough in its demands.
I arranged my affairs in New York and finished up my present engagement with Arnold Rothstein. I could, of course, leave my quarters in the capable care of Ms Hagel while I was out of town. She knew I was paid through the end of the year, and had always treated even my most volatile possessions with admirable care. What remained, then, was the acquire the necessary items and arrange my travel. In this last regard the people at Prospero Press were immensely helpful.
I arrived by train in San Antonio to consult with the Rangers. They had quite a file on Kimble, and a ranger who called himself “Big Bob” Henderson who seemed quite keen to discover where he might be found. In exchange for my promise to do what I could to nudge Kimble into the custody of the Rangers, he agreed to share the file with me, and tell me what he knew of the man.
I learned that Kimble had joined the US Army in 1915, then deserted a few months later. The following year, he hijacked a US Army munitions train, and had apparently been making a living for himself selling the contents to the rebels in Mexico. In early 1924 he’d hijacked an entire freighter of weapons, bound for the Turkish army. So bold, then, if not entirely original. His audacity had earned him the ire of the Texas Rangers, the Delaware State Police, the United States Army, the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and even the RCMP. He had managed to cross the unfortunate line of having so many bounties offered for him that he was likely worth more dead than alive. The largest single amount available for his capture was $500. While that was a handsome sum, the total of the bounties outstanding for him dead was closer to $700. Unlucky for Kimble, I suppose.
After further consultation with Henderson and a brief check-in at the US Army post nearby, I knew that Kimble was about six feet tall, blonde, and fluent in Spanish. He commanded the loyalty of the men around him, and often used the alias Estaban Santos when traveling in Mexico. A large following and a fluency with the local language would allow him a great deal of flexibility in the Yucatan, but it at least seemed that finding a tall blonde man in those parts would simplify things considerably, given that Pierce seemed to be on his trail.
With that portion of my task complete, I bought a camera and three cartons of Lucky Strikes before continuing to Galveston to board a steamer. It would have been faster to sail straight for the Yucatan, but Pierce’s missive had requested certain items that I couldn’t obtain in the US. A swing through the Caribbean, however, soon put this to rights. Several weeks later, I sailed into Campeche with everything I needed.
- One large steamer trunk of clothing, toiletries, and other essentials
- One large, well-locked, steamer trunk of arms and ammunition
- One case London dry gin
- One case London old tom gin
- One demi case London sloe gin
- Three cases tonic water
- One demi case dry vermouth
- One set cocktail glasses
- One martini shaker
- One case limes
- Five pounds green olives
- One wooden crate, 5′×3′×3′, labeled “Grand Rapids Ref Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Leonard Cleanable, Model 6”
- One wooden crate, 4′×8′×3′, labeled “Kholer & Co, 4cy 2stk Inline with Dyn”
- One 20-gal steel drum, diesel fuel
- Three cartons, Lucky Strike cigarettes
I soon found the others and we checked into the hotel. Natasha seemed determined to spend a day or two recuperating from her voyage, but the others and I made our way to the rail station to find Guillermo. He spoke to us briefly, and gave us a letter from Pierce explaining where to find her camp. The train wouldn’t leave until the following morning, so we sent Murphy to purchase a half a dozen burros to haul the luggage. He seemed oddly reluctant about it, but he came through in the end.
That evening we gathered in the hotel bar. Richard told us that he’d followed a gentleman who Helen had apparently alarmed in at the hotel earlier in the day, and discovered that he was a member of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. He had perked up when he heard her mention Kimble’s name, and had sent a telegram back to his agency about it. Murphy, perhaps still in a foul mood about the burros, or maybe just feeling surly in the heat, confronted him in the dining room. Helen managed to pull Murphy away and the man retired to his room.
In the morning, the burros arrived and we packed the luggage down to the train station for the morning’s departure. We had a boxcar to ourselves, and spent the day riding the rails at a painfully slow pace, stopping every few miles to let some new group off the train. There seemed to be a large group of locals returning home from their time spent in Campeche for the busy season. Many of them had brand new rifles, and they practiced their marksmanship out the side of the train as we rode along. Murphy was able to speak to some of them, and learned that they had bought their new guns from a man matching Kimble’s description.
We finally reached our mile marker not too long before sundown, just short of a small bridge over a slow-moving river. By the time we had unloaded the animals and the gear, then re-packed it onto the burros, the sun was nearing the horizon. We set off along a rough trail into the jungle, traveling South parallel to the river. I lead the way, as I seemed to be the only member of our little group who had spent any real time in the out of doors. It was slow going, and got even slower once the light began to fade.
Shortly before full dark, we found a small standing stone, covered in carvings. Helen assured us that they were Mayan, and indicated that there was clean water nearby. The menhir also seemed to indicate that there was a temple, or perhaps temples, nearby. At least some of the symbols matched those that Natasha had found representing Ah Puch. Given that this is what Pierce had apparently come here to find, it seemed like we were on the right track.
We pushed further into the jungle, but within a few hundred yards the path opened back up again into a campsite. There were clear signs of recent habitation, but nobody to be found. There were also signs of recent struggle, and Murphy found traces of blood near the river. It seemed we had found Pierce’s camp, but had arrived too late to assist with whatever had befallen her party. Frustrating as it was, there was little good we could do her rushing out into the jungle in pitch darkness, so we set camp and resolved to continue our search at dawn. We made a small fire and set a watch for the night.
I took the first watch with Helen. It proved entirely uneventful, with nothing more than the sounds of a living forest around us. I returned to my tent when Murphy and Natasha took over from us. I stretched myself out on my bedroll, did a last check that my equipment was ready in case of some emergency, and soon fell asleep.
I was awakened by Murphy bursting into my tent an indeterminate time later. He reached down to shake me awake, but by then I was already sitting up and reaching for the Thompson. Murphy wasn’t making sense about what was going on, but I slipped into my shoes and stepped outside into some kind of surreal nightmare.
A thick fog had covered the clearing, leaving a strange taste in my mouth when I inhaled. The forest was lit from within by an eerie red glow. I stood in the center of the clearing, trying to figure out what I was seeing when a figure stepped out of the trees at the edge of the clearing. Silhouetted by the red light behind him, he was big, with a head like an owl. He raised his arms, and began to shout at us. I didn’t understand what he was saying because it was all in Spanish, but it sounded angry and ominous. I caught the name “Ah Puch” in the middle of the diatribe.
Several of the others had started to back away from him, and I could hear more movement stirring in the jungle around us. It seemed we would soon be surrounded. Faced with such a visage, and feeling unseen enemies encircling our position, leaving the path back to the railroad tracks as our only exit, I did the only sensible thing. I raised my gun and shot the idiot who was still shouting. Honestly, what kind of self-respecting Mayan god of the dead menaces a Canadian in Spanish?
The shouting stopped, and was replaced with a terrible wail. It was not the sound of a god of the dead cursing us from beyond the mortal realm. Rather, it was simply the sound of a grown man reacting to the sudden shock of a bullet wound in a sensitive area. A few panicked shouts emerged from the forest around us, and suddenly several more figures burst into motion, running for cover. Murphy, Morgan, and I each took off after one as they scattered.
The one I was chasing wasn’t making terribly good time, running frantic in the near dark. I soon caught a clear look at him as he reached a path in the trees. My shot took him in the back of the head as he straightened up down the path. He went limp mid-stride, falling in a tangle as his momentum carried him into the underbrush.
As I turned around to see where I could be the most help, I heard Morgan shouting that he’d caught one. I rushed towards his voice, hearing the sounds of struggle as I got nearer. When I arrived, I found him on the ground, grappling with another man much larger than himself. The other fellow finally gave up trying to free himself from Morgan’s grasp as Murphy and I arrived.
While Murphy began to question the man Morgan had caught and Helen tended to the wounded man in the owl mask, the others conducted a brief search of the jungle around us. They soon found a series of red flares that were causing the glow, and a curious device that was producing dense clouds of white smoke, apparently the source of the fog. A pack of charlatans, the lot of them! Worse, a pack of charlatans with no plan beyond screaming and running for their lives in the event that anyone was sensible enough to stand up to them rather than running in terror into the night. A group of ruffians chosen at random from any back alley in New York would have done better.
We learned that the man Morgan had caught was named Dávid, and that Arturo was the man in the mask. They worked for Kimble, scaring away any archaeologists who ventured into this part of the jungle. They wanted to make sure that no one discovered their operation based out of the nearby ruins. They were using them as a staging area for their gun running. They’d taken some captives from several groups, then ransomed them back to their various universities. We also learned that Pierce’s group had also fought back, and while there had been several killed, Pierce herself had escaped.
Helen had stabilized the wounded man, but he was not yet conscious. At dawn, we left him with Dávid and headed down the path towards the ruins. Dávid had promised to get himself and Arturo away from us and not to interfere, and we had in turn promised to shoot them both dead if they returned. My sense was that we had seen the last of them.
We found a spot along the top of a ridge overlooking the ruins. From there, we could see the building that Dávid had told us Kimble’s gang was using as their headquarters. As we watched, we saw Kimble himself and a group of other men ride out on horseback and meet an incoming column of natives on foot. They spoke briefly, then Kimble and the others rode off to the East and the natives continued to the temple just North of the palace that Kimble’s men had occupied. Some time later, a severed head was thrown out of the top of the temple and rolled down to its base. It appeared that the natives had sacrificed one of their own!
I left a grenade with Natasha so that she could cause a distraction if any shooting started, then lead the others down the aqueduct to the palace. We reached the base of the palace unseen, but there was a sentry in the tower rising from the center of the building who would need to be dealt with if we were to move any further without risking being detected. I left the others to watch the courtyard in front of us. A quick glance had shown four guards, but I hoped that they would remain on the far side of the courtyard until I had dealt with the sentry.
I had made it to the base of the tower when I heard a sudden commotion. Apparently the others had tried to sneak past the guards in the courtyard, and at least one of them had been spotted. I soon heard the sound of Father Yang. I’m not sure what he said to them, but a few minutes later I saw the four of them march out of the courtyard towards the temple, rifles in hand. With their backs to me, I rushed up the steps of the tower with the suppressed pistol in my hand. When I cleared the top of the stairs, I fired three rounds into the sentry as I charged him. I managed to catch him as he fell, setting him down out of site before he could pitch over the edge.
As I took his place, I looked out over the low wall around the top of the tower to see the four men from the courtyard shooting the natives who remained outside the temple. They seemed to have decided that they were not going to stand idly by and countenance human sacrifice. Good on them, I suppose. They seemed to be losing their resolve as they shot the last of the natives still outside and began to contemplate climbing up and inside the temple. As they slowed, I heard the sound of an explosion from the ridge. Natasha had taken the gunfire from the guards as a sign that it was time for the distraction. Not the timing I would have chosen, but beggars can’t be choosers.
As I watched from my perch, trying to decide if they were going to turn back around and force me to decide if I should shoot them before they returned and bottled up the others inside the palace, I saw a group of men on horseback ride out of the jungle to the East. Kimble was at the head of the column, and they were riding hard. A moment later, a second group of riders emerged behind them, seemingly in pursuit. I didn’t recognize the man who seemed to be leading them, but I certainly recognized the woman riding next to him. Pierce seemed to handle herself quite well on horseback.