Mama Pop wasn’t that impressed by the boy: a dreamy beach bum, was her take. But the girl? Que horror! The slut skirt, those Nazi boots, the stubborn look… one of those little renegades who wanted to throw over centuries of tribe for the latest gringo fad or perversion, is what it all looked like. She let Puch deal with it, pretending not to listen from the porch while using an old corncob to scrub the kernels off maize for tortillas.

Puch couldn’t figure it out either: these two just show up and seem to expect the Pops to put them up, take them in to what they were doing. He stood talking to this Ganzo under the workers’ palapa while his little ponkita girlfriend wandered around the edge of the sinkhole, peering down at The Works.

“So Curtsy told you to come see me. Did she say why?”

“No. She said she didn’t know why, but it seemed like the right thing.”

Puch eyed Ganzo closely, his scan mixed with a little male territoriality. “So how long have you known Curtsy?”

“Only weeks. Since she came to live at my house.”

Great. Well…

“She said we should talk to your mother.”

“She said what?” Puch was flabbergasted and didn’t mind it showing. “My mother never liked her, said I was crazy to be involved with her, and since she left me, she really doesn’t like her.”

“It’s what she said.”

Puch looked around, then motioned him over to the lip of the pit. Ganzo stood on the drop and solemnly surveyed the construction site below, which had become a ball court almost indistinguishable from the ancient ones at the ruin sites. He pointed to the growing pile of stone at the far end, where it rose to the level ground in tapering tiers and said, “It’s a pyramid that leads up to the head of a queen. A god, you know?”

Puch stared at him, then back at the stone breaks. He could almost see it himself. “What makes you say that?”

“I just see it,” Puch said. “I look at things and see the shape wanting to come out.”

Well, that sounded possibly useful. “So you make things? Masonry? What?”

To answer, Ganzo pulled a rolled towel out of the blanket purse he had slung over his shoulder. He held his forearm parallel to the ground and let the towel unroll over it, the way he always displayed his wares. Puch stared at dangling necklaces and bracelets, earrings clipped on to the towel: treasures crafted from the leavings of the sea. He bent to examine them more closely, touched one that really caught his eye; a classically stylized bee Ganzo had scraped out of a pork bone using broken files and old drill bits.

“They’re beautiful,” he said. “This one looks like it should be in a gallery.”

“I made it for Xchab,” Ganzo said. “I’m saving it to give to her when…”

Puch looked up at him but that was apparently all he had to say. Suddenly he was aware of his mother standing right behind him. She also reached to touch the little bee, made of bone scorched golden brown with a hot machete blade. She also looked up at Ganzo, and said, “What’s her name?”

“Xchab Cab.”

“We keep bees,” mayancalendargirls.comshe told Ganzo and Puch knew it was somehow part of her questionnaire for these two.

And the Pops did have beehives. For generations they had husbanded the rare, stingless Yucatan bees as the Maya always had, harvested the treasured black honey.

Puch nodded and motioned towards the back of the property, where the hives were set among the blossoms of the jungle. But his gesture stopped in mid-air as he stared at Xchab, now standing directly above the tapering ridge where Ganzo had seen a headdressed goddess head, looking down at their constructions and moving in a slow, silent dance.

And behind her, like a moving black shroud, a living version of the mantle of the Virgin, was a swarm of bees. She moved like a swimmer in thick syrup, her movements stately and composed for such a young girl. And each time she swung an arm out from her side, it was the lead edge of glistening black wing. When she clapped her hands over her head, two columns of bees clashed behind her, splashing upwards into the sun. She twisted and trotted and windmilled her arms, all shadowed by that teeming cloud of wings.

Mama Puch watched her for over a minute, then turned to Puch, not looking at Ganzo. “Find the boy a place in the shed with your workers and ball-players,” she said, turning away towards the house. Over her shoulder she added, “The girl can have Yoli’s old room.”

Puch looked at Ganzo, regarding him blankly, and grinned. He stuck out his hand and Ganzo grasped it. “So we stay here?”

“No doubt of it, amigo. Dinner is in an hour.”

“Then I have another message for you.” He rolled the towel carefully, stuck it back in his shoulder bag, pulled out a piece of creamy stationery with the Blancaneaux logo across the top, and handed it to Puch.

I thought you’d find it in you to take care of this pair. You’re a sweetheart.
Kurtz
P.S. I don’t think I’m done with you yet. So watch your ass.

Puch read it twice then looked at Ganzo, keeping his face impasive. Ganzo said, “She said only give you the letter if you invited us.”

Puch shook his head with a smile that wasn’t really amused, but not quite sad. “She doesn’t really know me. Yet.”

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Denny “Stonecold” Mercer slipped out of his trenchcoat, damp from the showers of some little-known tropical capital, and hung it neatly over a bamboo chair. He removed his battered, “if this hat could talk, the stories it could tell” fedora and tossed it on the rack in the corner. All without taking his eyes off the woman on the bed: dark-skinned, exotic, of primordial, pre-whiteman breeding.

He’d completed his mission, against improbable odds, and brought home the bacon, squeal and all. He brushed the pleats on the front of his khakis, then undid the tricky knife/camera/buckle and let them fall to the floor. She was looking at him, ancient eyes staring out from the hard young body. He moved across to her, sat on the bed, checking around for snares, eye-holes, or listening devices. He reached to touch her soft, mounded breast and she sighed and rose towards him. mayancalendargirls.com “Aren’t you going to turn off the television?” Lluvia moaned softly.

So he turned off the television and tossed a yellow towel over the lamp. And once again sat down beside Lluvia, old eyes in a young body in an obscure tropical capital. Slowly, shyly, she reached up to him. And in the moment her soft hands touched his face he felt a shift inside himself, a deep, tectonic psychic shift, two worlds grinding into accommodation. Here he was. He eased down beside her, drinking in her touch and diving deep into a world where there was just no need to be anybody but himself.

She didn’t much like the looks on Tuan’s face as he viewed the screen of a “VIP” computer in the Presidents’ Lounge. Yes, THOSE Presidents in the Houston airport. He glanced at her, blank, and said, “There’s only one file here, Mei.”

“There should be at least six shots. Things got a little confused there, but…”

“It’s a video.”

That set her back. How could that be? Well, one thing to do. “Let’s have a look.”

He started to shuffle his chair to one side, but she perched on his knee with an arm around his neck and peered at the screen as he clicked the file. There was the usual bevy of idiot Window’s questions and kvetching, then Media Player opened on a close-up on the face of Aphra Alisandra.

“Uh-oh.”

Tuan turned up the volume. Aphra, looking into the camera in a mixture of faux embarrassment and possibly semi-valid sincerity, said, “Hey, Chinatown. Hope you’re not in Mexico watching this in a holding cell. Yeah, I took your camera. Beat Townsend to it by a nanometer. Sorry, kiddo. mayancalendargirls.comBut I really need this stuff and I’m not into chasing down that yacht asshole. Thanks for everything and maybe I can return the favor some day. Give me about a six month lead with this shit, okay? Then some day you’ll get an email from “Black Adder”. Respond and I’ll send you your stuff, is that cool? I figure you’re not going to be back up to speed in academia before then, anyway. And I’m going to see if I can make some of your troubles in Mexico go away. Good luck. Hope it works out with the little Flip. I thought he was pretty cute, actually. I mean, you know, considering. I’d nab him myself, but I don’t do short. Or smart. Hasta la vista, baby.”

They both stared at the screen until Tuan moved to shut it down before it repeated. They both sat, MeiMei leaning her head on his. “I gotta admit, she’s kind of cool,” she said. “For a back-stabbing, amoral bitch.”

Tuan nodded absently, obviously lost in thought. Finally he said, “Do you think she can really sort out Mexico for you?”

“I really doubt it. I told you who that asshole is.”

“Then there’s the Old Assholes Network, Mexico Chapter.”

“I don’t know. I really want to know what’s on that thing. Think maybe hypnosis might help? Recovered memories?”

“Aren’t those always about sex abuse by parents and satanic cults?”

“You know what? I’m actually not too keen to get back to work right away. I’ve always been a workaholic but…” she turned to kiss his brow. “I never had any reason to goof off before.”

“An excuse for procrastination and laziness. Few men could aspire to a higher calling.”

“So what’s this O.B. place like?”

“Ocean Beach? You’ll love it. It’s got a special beach for dogs.”

“You’d enjoy Seattle, too. Until it starts raining.”

Tuan reached into his carry-on and pulled out two boarding passes. “Two first class to SeaTac,” he said. “I figured you’d want to touch base with your family.”

MeiMei turned in his lap to hug his neck. And whisper in his ear. “I agree with that bitch on one thing: I hope this works out, too.”

“It has to,” he said. “We already did the honeymoon.”

She was a hundred yards outside the reef, and pushing deeper with every dive. She felt slow and awkward with the strap-back SCUBA fins, but was getting some serious depth. Between recover spells, lying still on the surface with her hands and legs pointing downward, her mind and oxygen metabolism slowed with the meditation Royal had taught her years ago on Roatan. She started to ramp up another hyper-ventilation cycle and series of breath packs and there they were, like she’d known they would be. Knew they would be.That’s the way it was now, for some reason.

Bruto was there first, rocketing past her in his coarse way, shouldering her roughly aside. Her heart jumped. They’d come for her then, and they came to her now!

mayancalendargirls.comShe felt Pinoccio bump her feet, two other bodies slide along her legs, then Caruso made a pass at her waist as she shifted to an upright position, her head up as she laughed and whooped. When Bruto barged back through she caught his muzzle with cupped hands and he dragged her ten yards before diving and shaking her off. By the time she was back to the surface, Chido and Xochil had both nosed by, spinning her around.

Caruso nuzzled his beak into her crotch and she reached down to lean her hands over it. He reacted with a powerful ripple of his frame, powering him into what would have been a surface-clearing leap if she hadn’t been leaning on his nose. She shot up out of the water, balancing on him like the cross stroke of a “T”, then sailing off to splashdown with a happy yelp.

Okay, fellahs, she thought to them, let’s get down and get rowdy. It didn’t hit her right away, not until she was back on shore meeting Gareth and Kenny at the Paraiso, but she felt nothing sexual with the streaking black beasts. Not even a tingle. It had all been like rough-housing with her brothers, or playing co-ed basketball at college. One of the guys. And her guys had come through, had her back.

She lay on her back in the water, with her head lolling back, looking up at the sky. Waiting for one of those scamps to bump by her butt with a fin. And suddenly, out of nowhere, she remembered lying like that on top of an ancient pyramid. And feeling the body, seeing the face, of a man who wanted to offer her heart to the Gods.

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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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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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