Bannock had dropped them off in the rented, dented van, as far up the rutted trail as he could navigate. And would wait for them there as long as it took. He sat on the ground, leaning back on a tire and just listening to the rain forest breathe and twitter. Funny how you didn’t hear the world making its little sounds until you decided to listen. He inhaled the scent of pine and primordial rot and decided he was better off here than back in that motel with Tuan and Ganzo. That had to be a fairly one-way conversation.

But it had still been a long hike and some of the girls offered to spell Curtsy, carrying the duffle of gear Tuan had hastily rented from that shady tour operator in Placencia. But now, as they trod carefully in the shadows of what seemed like a totally different world, that seemed meaningless. They were here in this egg-shapedmayancalendargirls.com cavern with a floor of blue water and tiny ceiling of sunlit leaves.

Curtsy, with the pack slung across her back, was the last one down the rope and even though she was no stranger to cenotes she was subdued by the cathedral air of this one. She moved quietly up beside the other girls and looked down into water as clean and clear as the air up above.

There hadn’t been any discussion when Loris told them about it. Aphra was hot to get back to the States, but Copper was dying to come with them and each of the six girls who had been in the hot tub that night had deeply felt that they should be here. MeiMei had realized, though not mentioned, that having everybody present meant six people who would know about the place, could come back and seek out the power or just money. But she had a feeling nobody would do that. Just a feeling.

Curtsy was sizing up the cave and the water at the bottom, definitely impressed. She asked Loris, “How did you know this was here?”

Loris laughed and said, “How do you think?”

Then she reached into her backpack, pulled out the bundle of soft cotton, and unveiled oXo. The skull seemed almost matte in the cavern’s filtered light, a primal green dancing with a sphere of gold light from the sinkhole overhead.

Aphra stepped over to stroke the gleaming occipital. “Way I hear it, those two dorks paid you a good chunk of change for that thing. Now you playing Indian giver?” Just to fuck with Miss Bettysue PerfectCenter. She nodded towards Xchab and mimed embarrassment, “Scuse me, there honey.”

Xchab regarded her impassively as Loris buffed oXo with the shroud cloths then looked at Aphra and said, “You heard wrong then. They paid Bannock. Who took him from me, and now I just stole him from those guys. But that’s meaningless, really. There’s no ownership where something like this is concerned. We’ve all done our part to bring oXo home. Including those film guys financing it.”

“Fine with me. Information wants to be free, and all that,” Aphra shrugged. “Long as it don’t get too free and there’s no market for it.”

Curtsy opened the bag duffle and started passing around masks. No snorkles needed, she’d pointed out, since they weren’t going to be cruising the surface. She pulled her mask on and started pulling off her work shirt.

“Okay, everybody gotta get totally nekkid for this one,” Aphra said in the same tone of finality they associated with Loris.

MeiMei, unbuttoning her blouse, looked at her suspiciously and asked, “Why?”

“Because we look so much hotter that way, of course!” Aphra whooped and was almost instantly nude. Copper stripped down just as quick, and pulled the mask over her unruly red mop. The other girls all laughed and started following suit. Except Xchab, who merely undressed and stood naked and flatfooted, waiting for the next move. Aphra looked around and gave a whistle, but something in the way the high pitch echoed in the cave silenced them again. mayancalendargirls.com Curtsy knelt at the edge of the pool, closely examining the bottom in the green/gold twilight, then smiled at the others and pitched forward into the water. She was at the bottom, peering further back into the subterranean lake, as five other splashes sounded around her.

She surfaced and looked around at the other girls. “I see some light back there,” she said, “But it’s a long damn ways.”

“I think I heard about that light at the end of the tunnel shit before,” Aphra sneered.

“If there’s light, there’s air,” Curtsy returned flatly, and once again Aphra had that awareness of being in a new element where she wasn’t the prime player. Loris glided over to Curtsy and held oXo out, half of his dome above the water. “You take him. You’re the one who can make it all the way.”

Curtsy nodded and told them all about how to relax and rebreathe to get a maximum lungful of air. Then she dropped out of sight and kicked off powerfully into the long tunnel that ran through the bedrock. She held oXo in both hands, stretched out in front of her, zooming through the water with a crystal figurehead out front.

The other girls were behind her, each of them moving as well as they could. And each of them reached a point that they knew was as far as they could push it. They would each stop, hover in the water, look down the tunnel to the faintly lit chamber at the end, then turn back. The last one to rein up was Loris, who stared ahead at what she knew she would see, a hemispherical dome in the rock, illuminated in yellow glow from above. And in the center of it, a broken off stalagmite created a low plinth. She turned back, pulling her way along the roof of the grotto, but looked back to see Curtsy flash into the chamber, her gold/white body fluorescing in the filtered sunlight, and place oXo gently on the little pedestal before kicking the bottom once to rise up and breathe.

Five girls paddled in place in the deep end of the pool by the entrance to the tunnel, not looking at each other, just waiting for Curtsy to break the surface. Then she was there, bounding out of the water like an orca, whipping water out of her hair, laughing like a little girl at recess.

All six of them were quiet then, a circle of heads in the water. Without conscious thought, they extended their arms and found their hands on each other’s napes.

Copper broke the calm, almost reverential silence. “Think we could get oXo to spring for one more metagasm?”

“If he won’t, it’s on me,” Aphra purred and the other girls laughed.

They broke the circle and climbed out of the water. MeiMei looked around, wondering when was the last time people were here. Had the Mayans placed oXo there? Or had he been there for millennia awaiting them? mayancalendargirls.comAnd somebody must have come to take him out and put him into circulation. She’d buy about anything at that point.

They dressed without much chatter, Curtsy quietly collecting the masks and fins and tossing them back in the bag. On the way out, Loris stopped at the bottom of the rope and looked back. She called out, “See you, oXo. I love you,” and nobody even thought it was silly. In fact each one of them had a sudden thought in the same moment. One of those little mental jingles that makes no sense at all. “The Love loves to love you all.”

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Aphra saw the knife–a raptor claw of some gray matte space-aged metal–come through between the warped door and the frame, then flick upwards to toss the latch, but there wasn’t much she could do about. Caught flat-footed, about the only way you get caught when you’re sitting on a toilet and the stall door blows open on you. And who else but Townsend Hardley, once again barging in on her private participles?

Her eyebrow arched delicately as she regarded him over the fist he stuck in her face. The fist that came wrapped around another dull-metal object that reminded her of one of those rubber hand-exercisers with finger grooves, but had this thing like a cigarette filter sticking out between two fingers and pointing right between her eyes.

Never saw one of those little tricks before, but got no doubt it would blow somebody’s head off or poison their whole family or whatever shit it was supposed to do. So she said, “Could you be a little dear and grab me some toilet paper from the next stall?”

Townsend didn’t smile or blink, just kept the drop on her, held his hand out, and snapped his fingers. She’d thought she was home free, somehow getting off the airport jitney and slipping down here to the bus station in Belize City.mayancalendargirls.com 2-D scrambling, unaware of hawkeyes from Up. So here he was with compulsion in his fist, and there she was with her slinky little undies around her ankles and a roll of TP short. He didn’t want to speak to her and didn’t feel like he really had to.

“Can see you’re no gentleman, Townsend,” she said archly. “You didn’t hurt Copper on your way in here, did you?”

“No need. I know you have it on you. Give.”

With a world-weary sigh, she reached up to where she’d hung her traveling purse to keep it off the decidedly unsanitary floor. Slowly, carefully bringing it down to where she could reach inside.

And he quickly, carefully taking it from her. Took the straps in his teeth and plunged around inside it.

“You find that poisoned wolftrap I left in there?” she asked innocently. “Started feeling sleepy from the stuff I put on the strap?”

He came out with the camera, quickly flipped the little door open and felt for the memory card without taking his eyes off hers. Then boom, he was gone.

She sat motionless without a sound, waiting to hear the restroom door close before she moved. Then the stall door popped open again and he tossed her a roll of the local toilet sandpaper and hit her with a rodeo smile. “No hard feelings.”

Outside the nasty ladies’ room, he moved through the big, echoing, grimy terminal, heading for the chartered car waiting in one of the bays. He saw Copper buying bottles of water for their trip to the border and held the bag up for her to see, then dumped it on a bench and got in the car.

As he pulled away from the apron, Copper moved over to pick up the purse, looking nervously at the restroom door. But Aphra walked out, cool and collected, to reach for the purse, sling it over her bare shoulder, and give her a grin. “Whiteboy just don’t get up early enough in the morning to nab lil orphan Aphra,” she said and Copper laughed her fool ass off.

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Bannock, never relinquishing the backpack in which oXo was hammocked and wary of untoward developments, kept an eye on the two Valley Vultures, who were trying to give him the stink-eye while being pestered by a bouncy, Hollywood-hyped Curtsy. But also took in his pool-mates standing there in
shabby clothes with no belongings. Finally, uncomfortably, he spoke quietly to them, “It’s been great meeting you… well… freaks. I’ll miss you all. But listen, is everybody going to be okay, here?”

He was pleased, and a little surprised, to get nods all around. Winston made a “smooth sailing” gesture with a flat palm. “I’m stoned, I’m possession-free, and just got rid of a woman I had to take care of. How okay can I get?”

MeiMei and Tuan nodded, impressed by his implied gesture, but about as okay as a professor and millionaire newly in love can be. Copper and Aphra unconsciously inclined their heads toward each other, Aphra wearing the buddhistic calm of somebody in possession of extremely high-ticket intel soon to become a government secret. Quasi government, anyway. Real government, probably. And Seagull was evidentially going to third-wheel the two “lebanese” girls for awhile, token different rummer.

Curtsy was in however good hands you would consider Gareth and Kenny to represent and anyway stacked blondes are seldom refugees in this world.

He gave a lingering look at Ganzo, making sure he was understood. The beachcomber slowly nodded and Xchab seemed to drift a little closer to him.

“So we’re all heading to town?” Nods all around, except for Aphra and Copper, who pointed to the airport jitney. Even Curtsy and, less comfortably, the producers were on the Belize City run. So he decided he wasn’t needed. Which was just fine.

The shuttle motor fired up and Copper was moving towards the door, but Aphra turned and looked at Townsend, who was stood apart and looked at her steadily but without expression. (Unlike Gareth and Kenny, who regarded Loris and Bannock with undisguised loathing.)

She stepped away from the shuttle door and motioned him closer. He paused for a long moment, then walked to within a pace of her. She waited for him in a natural stance, no posing, and looked at him in a very unaffected way that made him immediately suspicious. “Hey, Bigtime,” she said. “No hard feelings?”

Townsend stared at her a beat, then turned away.

“Hey, wait,” she called out and he stopped but didn’t turn. She said, “We suck, huh?”

That got him to turn and look at her, so she blurted. “I mean as, you know, human beings. We’re rotten and do fucked-up shit.”

He nodded non-committally so she went on. “Ever think about changing that? Be somebody, you know… good and decent and not like deceitful and all that?”

“Lately it’s crossed my mind.”

Now she stopped and regard him thoughtfully. “Well, maybe me too,” she said dubiously. “Almost. But listen, MeiMei Chiang? She’s good, you know? Not all sappy sweet new age good like that Loris, but she’s a straight-shooter and doesn’t hurt people, you know?”

He just stood, watching her.

“And I fucked her over. Too. Just like you would’ve, if you’d been a little quicker. But maybe you could help her out.”

“If you’re so concerned, why not give her camera back?”

She smiled, but wiped if off and hurried on. “Look, I don’t know quite which alphabet frat you work for. But whoever they are, they get shit done, I been noticing. So you got that guy on the yacht. Ronchel, on the Nahual. Heading south out of Cozumel like six weeks ago. So maybe somebody you know might be up to doing his ass for him?”

He started to give her a quick, shitty answer, but just didn’t feel like it. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “Consider it under advisement.”

Then he stepped away and she moved to the door of the shuttle and stepped up inside. Townsend made no move to board either vehicle. He’d made his arrangements. He stood watching the shuttle pull out, enduring Aphra’s smirk and fingertip wave through the window. Copper leaned over and kissed her palm, then high-fived it against the glass and they were gone.

Alone on the lot except for two Mayan groundskeepers hauling out a barrow and brooms to restore the immaculosity of the area, he pulled
out a pocket widget and checked the battery and display. Very tricky lady, that one. But basically, like many private spooks, living in a two-dimensional world. Like bugs crawling around on the floor, hiding behind bottlecaps and cigar butts, not realizing they could be seen and apprehended from the mystic
third dimension known as “up”.

Curtsy sat in the very back of the bus with the Melrose Metrosex duo, as removed as possible from the rest. She chattered about wrangling dolphins, working in pictures. But she was a girl whose idle chatter wasn’t that unpleasant to take in, especially for Gareth, so they weren’t loath to have her along.

“Remember, I got that thing I gotta do first. In Belize City. Okay?”

“Sure,” Gareth said indulgently. “We can talk to that little termite in the government film office about their program. Now that he’s had time to come down from his coke blitz at the festival.”

Curtsy grinned happily, her hot-weather ponytail bobbing. Then a shadow flitted across
her expression and she got all earnest. “Listen, I know you guys paid like a quarter million for oXo, then lost him.”

“Lost him?” Kenny asked shrilly. ” Is that what you call it when somebody takes your property out of your room at night? Maybe you and your little pals, for that matter?”

“Hey, not me. Okay? But where does that leave you guys? How can you take a hit like that and still make a picture?”

“Thanks for caring, Curtsy.” Gareth laying out his nicest manners. “It’s complicated. Money’s funny in The Wood. But okay, we don’t have a director for that picture…”

“Or a script, or a treatment, or a concept, or a vaguest fucking idea.” Kenny elaborated.

“All true. But we gotta whole lotta love at that seminar.”

“And for once he’s not bullshitting. We’ve got meetings at Zoetrope and Warners, exploring doing something down here. Maybe a real Maya picture. Maybe up there at the Lodge, down at the coast. Coppola loves it. He wants to see more of little Chabex, too.”

“Xchab. That’s great, guys. So are there dolphins in it?”

“Sure. You bet. I’m taking meetings with Flipper’s people, seeing if Willy will work for free.” He smiled enough to let her know he was more or less joking. “But how about Xchab? Is she going to be around. It might be almost a year before we do it, but we’d like to think…”

“Don’t worry. She’s going to be in a great place where they’ll take good care of her.”

“Great! Mind telling us where?”

“No problem. When the time comes. Now about your company for this film… where do you think I would fit in best?”

“Let’s see,” Kenny mused. “Blonde, built like a brickhouse, hot as a cell phone at Pico and Alvarado, full of mindless enthusiasm and dumb as a box of rocks… I’d say, executive producer?”

“I was thinking more like marketing,” Gareth said. “Now all you need is a Best Boy.”

“They’re all best,” Kenny said. “One way or another.”

After carefully storing the pack with its crystal passenger, Bannock shifted to where he could keep the corner of his eye on Gareth and Kenny in the back. He knew they’d be back into a cell phone footprint before they reached Belize City and that the really dicey spot would be getting out at the bus station. Meanwhile, he turned his attention to Loris, asked her something that had been on his mind. “What I don’t
understand…you were so crushed to be parted from oXo, but now you’re trying to lose him for keeps. So, what’s the difference?

“Because he’s going home. Don’t you see? He has his spot in the scheme of things and now he’s on his way. You said you were taking him home and you came through”

“Well, I have to confess, I didn’t exactly…”

“Hey.” She put a finger to his lips.” You did it. You can’t snarl out the reasons on things like this: you made it happen. And I’m never going to forget that.”

“Well, you might, after a few years. So I figure I’ll stick around and remind you.”

She shot him a sidelong look past her hair. “Are you professional tough guys really allowed to say mushy stuff like that?”

“I’m considering retirement. Know any good beaches?”mayancalendargirls.com

“You’re pretty young for that.”

“Well, you know… I was looking at those movie people up there. And kept thinking, “Just how hard
can this business be, anyway?”

“Oh, God. Are we going to jump off ‘Get Biggie’ here?”

“Actually, I think our next role should be ‘Get Lost’.”

“How else can anybody ever get found?”

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The parking lot was a bustle of people, luggage and conflicting itineraries. Tuan noticed an inverse proportion of luggage: the nobodies who’d paid to come touch the hem of Hollywood’s garment looked like they’d packed for a safari, luminaries like Cage and Black had single carry-ons. He and Mei had, of course, the clothes on their backs and two small packs of gizmos and necessories.

No lack of ground transport, as it’s called in the trade. A couple of cabs out of Belize City, driven by evil-looking RastaNefarious villains who broke into a lyrical Creole and engaging smiles when spoken to. A shuttle bus from Maya Island Airlines and the Lodge’s own combat Proven veteran of Camel Trophy wilderness racing Range Rover for those heading for Belize City, and buses to the border or the Cayes.

“No helicopters, though,” Aphra condescendingly observed to Copper.

Copper squinted up through the rainforest canopy and said, “Yet.”

The various guests and staff were sorting out into the vehicles, most heading for the airport, a few to Caye Caulker to unwind after three days in paradise. mayancalendargirls.com

Winston and Cage had vanished, presumably “bowling” at the 420 Lanes. Shane Black was pointing out some odd arm and shoulder movements to Loris, telling her how she’d eliminated the whole carpal/zygoid glitch he called “writer’s wrist”, and asking if he could make an appointment with her back in California.

Warm farewells and promises to exchange emails were being made with all the assurance of people who believed they would actually continue to correspond. The “interloper” cadre stood somewhat apart, marked by general lack of luggage and the somewhat preoccupied expressions they’d worn all day. They spoke softly among themselves, both avoiding the subject and wanting to sort it all out.

“It’s… I don’t know. Like a ship hits a hurricane and things shift around down in the hold.” Copper nodded blankly, but Aphra kept after it. “You know it’s different, but might not find out until you start unloading. But definitely some differences.”

Definitely. Some differences Copper would never really notice. And it would be almost three months before it suddenly dawned on her that she had no interest in renewing her explorations of the non-world of Ketamine anymore. Pharmaceuticals in general seemed uninteresting, like artificial lures. And it would be almost a year before she realized that she hadn’t dumped her lover and started scouting around: an all-time record.

“I don’t really notice anything different,” Tuan said, looking down as if he’d spot some change in his posture. “I mean, it blew my mind like never before. But I’m still me.”

“Probably because you’re so normal anyway,” MeiMei teased. Like she should talk about people being normal.

“Salvia and mescaline are like that,” Copper volunteered. “The more fucked-up you are, the more you notice it.”

“In that case,” Curtsy said, “How are you doing, there, Aphra?”

Aphra shot her an eye, but tossed her hands up and gushed, “I’m queer no mo’! Bless gracious and praise the lord, I’se free at last. All I can think about anymore is big old dicks. And I’m thinking of donating my time and money to working with Retarded Unwed Manatees.”

Loris looked up and caught her eye and Aphra toned it down a little. “Yeah, there’s something happening. But nothing I want to talk about. Don’t want to jinx the mojo.”

Much of what shifted below decks in Aphra had to do with what Loris had noted in her, the conquest obsession with sex. The mighty orgasmablitz had shaken a lot loose inside her, and she felt a lingering effect every time she came, clutching Copper to her in a torrent of sensation with no thought of anything but feeling it more and passing it on. She was also, though it would have alarmed her to know it, developing a rudimentary conscience.

But she looked back at Curtsy and pointed with her chin to where Ganzo was sitting in front of Xchab, talking to her non-stop. “Now right there’s a change you might take note of, Barbie. Looks like you might wind up short one boyfriend.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

“I’d say it be like that .”

Everybody looked at the Mayan pair. You could spot something different about Xchab right away; there was no longer the shadow of subservience or abnegation in her pose or manner. She sat up, looked sharply, took account. And as for Ganzo…

“It’s like he just woke up,” Curtsy said. “Came out of some kind of coma. I could never figure him out before. He wasn’t stupid or gorked out: he just wasn’t really around. And now…”

At that particular “now”, Ganzo was telling Xchab, “So you see. You are who you are, you have your place to be.”

“I see that,” she said. “I just wanted… But who am I, then? Where do I belong? Do you have answers to that?”

Ganzo’s steady gaze never wavered. “You’re like me. You belong with me. We’ll leave here and go find the place where we should be.”

Xchab stared at him. This was one different guy than the one she’d seen around before. And he seemed to know exactly what he was saying. She looked at him and tried to weigh him against Winston, against the tantalizing promise of the glittery world she’d been moping around the edges of. She said, “Those men want to put me in a movie.”

“Good. Maybe that will happen. Here’s what I think. You should come with me. I feel that very strongly. I want you to come with me. Stay with me.”

There was plenty of room for a girl to be thinking, Come where? Stay where? But Xchab looked at this sturdy, open young man of her own people and mold and slowly nodded her head.

“Tell you what,” Bannock said, when people seemed done with gawking the young Indian couple, “I’ve had more remodels and refits in my head the last couple weeks than I can really deal with. Right now I just sorta feel the way I did after eating those mushrooms. Except maybe more so. I’m just… I’m up for it. That’s it, I guess: I’m all for it.”

“That’s it!” Curtsy blurted. “That’s it right there. Bring it on.”

“When I was a little girl,” MeiMei said softly, getting everybody’s attention with her soft tone of voice, “My mother would always say, When you get old enough you’ll know better. Right now, I feel like I know better.”

“That’s what I would say about it,” Loris said. “I feel like I’m charged, informed.”

“Back in my ‘hood,” Aphra told her, “When peeps informed it worked out bad for ’em.”

MeiMei and Bannock laughed and Loris smiled wide, but went on, “I have knowledge. Knowledge isn’t just information, it has it’s own intelligence.”

Aphra and Townsend both nodded at that, caught each other and looked away.

“There’s only a certain amount of knowledge in the world and nobody can have all of it,” Loris continued. “But it wants to flow out and know everyone. That’s what the Call is: to know with total certainty who we are and what the world is, what we mean.”

“And now you on top of all that? Got the inside skinny?” Aphra wasn’t adverse, but wanted to hear her answer.

“It’s coming to everybody and everything in the world,” she said. “We have each been called to a task and our task is to prepare the next call, which will come in one year.”

“Fine with me,” Aphra grinned. “I’m still shakin like a jellyroll from the last one.”

“And the purpose of the Second call will be to bring people together to amplify the next Call, each one affecting more people, more meaningfully than the one before.”

“And the final one is in 2012? What’s its purpose?”

Loris stopped, looking at her–or through her–for a long moment, then she said, “The Final Call is its own purpose. Which the purpose for everything alive, everything that exists.”

“Hey, I heard last calls before,” Aphra cracked. “Means you don’t gotta go home, but you gotta get your ass out the door.”

There were smiles. but it fell a little flat. Then Townsend spoke quietly and simply. “All I notice is, I feel more like me. Trouble is, I don’t really recognize myself.”

“But you will,” Loris told him, looking at him intently. “We all will. That’s why this is happening. Why everything happened in the first place.”

“Wow, cool.” Winston muttered. Then straightened up and looked right at her. “But nothing you said makes any sense.”

“It will,” Loris said. “It’s what sense is for in the first place.”

“Tell you what I’m wondering here,” Aphra said, and everybody turned towards her as she said, “What is the sound of one hand pulling your leg?”

Everybody laughed, including Loris. But then she said, “You already know the sound. You just heard it. The First Tone.”

As more revelations of inner alterations trickled out of the waiting passengers, testimonials Aphra thought of as “Change You Can’t Help But Believe In”, Copper suddenly started laughing and motioned her closer. She leaned over and the redhead said. “God, you know what this sounds like?”

“What, child? What?”

“The obligatory character arc.”

Both of them clutched their cheeks and screamed, “Oh, noooooooooo!”

“First Tomb Raider, then Crystal Skulls,” Aphra said, pursing her long-suffering lips. “Now we’re Raiders of the Lost Arc.”

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