THE PHOENIX APOSTLES
By Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore
An imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide
2143 Wooddale Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125
The authors wish to thank the following for their
assistance in adding a sense of realism to this work of fiction.
Dr. Ken Muneoka, PhD
Department of Cell & Molecular Biology
Dr. John Gore, PhD
Director of Imaging Science
Vanderbilt Kennedy Center
Special thanks to Chris Fineout
“Wherever the corpse is,
there the vultures will gather.”
“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”
~ William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
The Doomsday Prophesy
Almost every culture and religion throughout history has had a doomsday prophesy. Probably the most well-known predictor of such an apocalypse is the ancient Mayan calendar. Archaeology has revealed that most Mayan locations had astronomical observatories that enabled them to predict events based on equinoxes and Venus cycles. They possessed such advanced knowledge of time and space that their calendar was more precise than any in use today.
The Mayan calendar is three calendars in one: a solar calendar based on 365 days which is ten-thousandths of a day more accurate than the currently accepted Gregorian calendar; a ceremonial calendar based on 260 days, the same as human gestation; and the combination of the two where the number of days and months only repeat every 52 years. The ancient Maya and other Mesoamericans used this same 52-year pattern, or a cycle called the Calendar Round. The Maya also had what they called the Long Count that began measuring time elapsed since their beginning—August 13, 3114 BC—and ending 5,121 years later. December 21, 2012.
The Aztec calendar had a date very close to the Mayan. The same date can also be calculated using the ancient classic Chinese text, I Ching. And there have been other similar prophesies and predictions of doomsday from the Hopi, Nostradamus, Mother Shipton, Cumaean Sibyl along with many interpretations of various legends, scriptures, and numerological constructions.
So what might occur on the predicted doomsday? A rare cosmic alignment that happens every 26,000 years when, on the winter solstice, the sun lines up with the center of the Milky Way. At the same time, the Earth completes a wobble on its axis and a pole-shift takes place—the North and South Poles reverse. The resulting cataclysmic effect on life as we know it could be beyond imagination.
The next time this galactic phenomenon will come together is exactly on the date predicted by the ancients.
December 21, 2012.
1876, Northern Sonora, Mexico
Billy Groves didn’t know if he was dead or alive. His lungs were starving. He attempted to draw in a breath like it was the first in a long time but the dirt choked him.
He clawed at his face and suddenly realized what was wrong.
He was buried.
Panicked, he scuffed away clods of soil and debris, fighting to breathe, to take a single life-saving breath.
Which way was up? Was he digging in the wrong direction?
Scratching and plowing, he pushed with his legs, trying to squirm free of the blackness. The panic grew and his body convulsed. He would have cried out but there was no air to power his lungs.
Finally, his fist broke through. He pushed at the heavy layer of gravel and earth until he saw light. The heat from the sun struck his skin as he opened his mouth and gulped in the air.
Spitting grit, he crawled out of his would-be grave and collapsed beside it. Groves brushed the dirt from his eyes and looked around. He saw what was left of the valley floor and suddenly started to remember everything—the cave, the gold, the Apaches, the earthquake.
And the arrow.
Groves forced his gaze to his torso. The arrow was there, it had run him through nearly to the fletching, entering his chest at an angle and exiting from his side. He twisted and looked at it in fearful anticipation of what he would find at the end of the shaft. But there was no arrowhead. It had broken off.
Gripping the arrow protruding from his chest, he grimaced and yanked. The shaft tore free of his flesh.
The arrow should have killed him. He inspected the hole in his chest. It was there but it wasn’t bleeding—
What the hell is going on?
The wound seemed to be already healing as he watched.
Some kinda miracle?
He’d been shot with an arrow and buried by an earthquake.
And he just rose from the dead.
2012, Mexico City
“What doesn’t make sense?” Seneca Hunt stood under the protective tent covering the archaeological dig site and watched the images appear on the video monitor.
Daniel Bernal, the dig master, who was also Seneca’s fiancé, wrapped his arm around her waist as he called to the video tech, “Mueva la cámara a la izquierda.”
“Si.” The tech adjusted the joystick, panning the probe to the left. Mounted on a flexible neck, the tiny camera was fed down a hole drilled through the stone floor. The LED collar on the camera bathed the sealed tomb below their feet with light.
Seneca leaned into Daniel. “What do you see?”
He pointed to the monitor. “There’s the altar where the remains should be. But there’s no funerary jar.”
A few other members of the Mexican dig team crowded around for a better look.
“Grave robbers?” Seneca raked her russet hair away from her face, missing one highlighted coppery strand that fell across her cheek. She pulled away and stepped back, immediately missing the feel of him next to her. “Let me get a couple of shots.” Raising the Nikon D3 hanging around her neck, she snapped off several pictures trying to capture the look of concentration on Daniel’s face.
Seneca was a staff writer working on assignment for Planet Discovery Magazine, and making double use of her time in Mexico. Tomorrow morning she and Daniel would fly to Playa del Carmen to marry and spend their honeymoon on the white sands at The Tides Riviera Maya. Soon, she would be Mrs. Daniel Bernal, wife of the noted archeologist and professor of Mesoamerican Studies at the University of Miami.
“No,” Daniel said. “Pot hunters wouldn’t take the ashes and leave behind all those valuable grave goods. It would have been the other way around. Just look at all the artifacts and jewelry, the gold, the jade . . .”
His slightly accented words, which Seneca found quite sexy, died off to a whisper as his finger tapped the monitor.
She moved behind him to frame the video screen over his shoulder and purred next to his ear. “I adore the way you roll your Rs.”
“You’re shameless.” He spoke low enough that only she could hear.
Seneca steadied the camera on his shoulder. She had written articles on other archeological digs, and like always, she felt the flutter of excitement in anticipation of what was about to take place—a glimpse into an ancient world and all its grandeur.
“The tomb appears dry and undisturbed. If the Aztecs built this city in the middle of a lake, why isn’t it flooded?” She paused from taking pictures.
“The burial chamber was never under water. At one time it was level with the base of the temple, but like everything else, the Spanish built over it.” Daniel motioned to the monitor. “Now that’s interesting. See that small chest resting on what appears to be a wooden table to the right of the altar? The silver one about the size of a cigar box?”
Seneca strained to see, then nodded.
“Definitely not Aztec. I would guess European—very ornate surface design. Maybe a reliquary.”
“A container used to hold religious relics, correct?”
“How would a European reliquary get inside the tomb?” She started snapping pictures again.
“Most likely a gift from the Spanish, and something the emperor wanted to take with him into the afterlife.” He turned to the video technician and instructed him to zoom in on the object.
The man manipulated the remote controls.
As the object grew larger on the screen, Daniel said, “There’s an inscription. It’s in Latin.”
“Can you read it?”
He concentrated on the image. “I can make out the word sudarium which means sweat-cloth. And the word facies which is face. The lighting is just too weak to read the rest.”
“Do you think Cortés might have given it to the emperor?”
With a shrug, Daniel said, “Maybe. Obviously, it was something Montezuma treasured enough to want it in his tomb. Compared to the condition of the other objects, it’s aged especially well. I’d have expected much more tarnishing. It looks as if it were placed there in more recent times.”
“Is that possible?”
“Doubtful. The tomb was probably sealed right after the burial. Judging from the video so far, it hasn’t been touched in five hundred years.”
Daniel leaned back and stretched, dropping into what she called his classroom voice. “These people lived surrounded in opulence beyond what most of the world had ever seen before. And then, within a blink of time, the Spaniards destroyed it all. Except for a chance discovery like this—one that appears to be in such pristine condition—all we ever see is the rubble of crumbling ruins. It’s a shame how so much has been obliterated throughout history because of what I think of as the double-G factor—gold and God.”
Seneca continued snapping pictures as she listened to Daniel express his fascination with what he and his team had discovered. He was so passionate about his work. When he talked about it, she loved how his face seemed to grow even more handsome. His dark eyes became sparkling black diamonds surrounded by thick black lashes. His tan skin glowed. It was all so magical to him. It brought out the boy-child, a part of him that always charmed her.
The previous afternoon she had conducted her formal interview with Daniel on the history and culture of the Aztecs, and particularly the significance of his discovery. But today was the money shot—the actual look inside the tomb, even if it was only by video. This was the first finding of an Aztec leader’s burial site, but not just any Aztec leader’s tomb. Daniel had discovered the resting place of the infamous Montezuma II, the man whom some historical records accused of killing over 80,000 people in the span of 4 days.
When Seneca would make a proposal to the editor at Planet Discovery, often his response was, “That’s not enough for a story, yet. Keep digging.” This was going to surpass even his expectations.
To her excitement, not only was she going to get an intriguing story, but there appeared to be a bonus—an additional mystery unfolding.
“So, what do you think happened?” she asked Daniel. “Where are Montezuma’s ashes?”
“My guess is that maybe there is no funerary jar because there was no cremation.”
“But I thought you said it was their custom.”
“Yes.” He stared back at the monitor. “Wait! See that?” He turned to the video tech sitting nearby. “Pare ahora mismo. ¡Mira!”
The technician froze the image.
“That’s very strange.” Daniel tapped the screen.
Seneca lowered her Nikon.
Flattening his hands together as if to pray, Daniel touched his forefingers to his lips. “Mi dios, no puedo creer lo que veo.” He kept staring at the monitor, a pallor chalking his face.
Seneca’s flesh prickled. “What is it?” She only caught the Spanish Mi dios—My God.
“Sorry, sorry. I can’t believe what I see. Look.” He used his fingertip to zero in on an object on the screen. “There’s the funeral shroud.”
Seneca saw what appeared to be a large piece of material lying on the floor. “What does it mean?”
“The Aztecs bundled their dead in a burial shroud before cremation. But look at this one. It’s untied and crumpled on the ground. Like he shed it as if there was no need.”
Seneca leaned in closer. “Almost as if Montezuma got up and walked away.”
1876, Northern Sonora, Mexico
On shaky legs, Billy Groves stood beside the hole that should have been his grave, unsure of why he was even alive. He heard the distant sound of water rushing over rocks and followed it until he found a nearby creek. He knelt and washed his face. As the spring water cooled his skin, the memory of what had happened continued to play out in his head.
It had all started the previous day while he was on the run, coming up from Santa Ana after killing a man in a cantina fight. He figured he had lost the Mexican banditos tracking him and decided to bed down for the night on a high ridge overlooking a mountainous ravine called Renegade Pass. He remembered being jarred awake by the sound of hooves on the rocky floor of the wash below. Drawing his pistol, he crawled to the edge of the rock ledge and peered over.
Expecting to see his pursuers in the pale light of daybreak, instead he spotted a dozen Mexican Federales riding into the pass followed by at least twenty pack burros. Canvas tarpaulins covered the backs of the animals, and judging by the way they moved over the uneven terrain, he figured their loads were heavy.
Soon the entire column had entered the narrow pass. As he watched the slow-moving procession snake through the ravine, the air sprang alive with the whoosh of arrows. The hair on his neck bristled.
Fierce yelps of the Apache warriors echoed off the rock walls drowning out the screams of the trapped Mexicans.
Indians streamed into the pass from each end, attacking until every soldier lay dead or dying.
He watched the Apaches dismount and move from body to body. Placing a knee between the shoulder blades of the victim, they sliced a long arc in the front of the soldier’s scalp. Even as the survivors begged for mercy, the Apaches pulled back the hair and ripped the scalp from the skull.
Sickened, he turned and crept away from the ledge. Covering his ears, he waited until the shrieks finally faded. Warily, he crawled back for another look.
One of the Apaches, a barrel-chested brave wearing a blue Union Army jacket that hung down to his knees, gave an order. Another moved to a burro and lifted the tarpaulin exposing leather saddlebags. He untied one and reached inside, pulling out a canvas sack, heavy enough that he seemed to need both hands to lift it. He slit a small hole in the bottom with his knife. A stream of gold dust spilled onto the blood-stained earth. The leader held out his hand and let the gold flow through his fingers, then made a bold gesture with his arm, and his fellow braves whooped.
Before the blood of the Federales dried, the Apaches had the burro train moving. Soon the last pack animal disappeared around a turn in the pass.
Mesmerized by the gold and the notion that he might be able to get his hands on some of it, Groves decided to follow the Indians. Watchfully, he led his mare down the side of the ravine into the wash, past the dead soldiers whose bodies were strewn about like broken dolls.
Keeping his distance, he tracked the Apaches throughout the morning and into the afternoon, going from deep ravines to dense forest and finally into the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains.
After a full day of shadowing the war party, he crested a hill and gazed down into a narrow valley with sheer rock walls on both sides and a small rapid-flowing river running through the middle. The Apaches had halted and were unloading the bags from the burros.
He tied up his mare and proceeded on foot, working his way along a ridge protected by a line of Douglas firs until he cut the distance by half. Concealed in the shadows of the forest, he lay flat on the ground and watched the braves carry the saddlebags into a thick stand of trees at the base of a cliff. When they finished, the Indians remounted and started up the pack train again, passing out of the valley and into the mountains beyond.
He waited for over an hour before retrieving his mare and riding down into the valley to where the Indians had unloaded the gold dust. He tied up his horse and explored the trees, finding a narrow path that led to a small opening in the rock, just wide enough for a man to pass through. Cautious, he drew his gun and listened. Drawn by the lure of the gold, he followed the zigzag passage until coming to the mouth of a cave. It was late afternoon and the sun had already dipped below the tops of the mountains. The inside of the cave appeared as dark as the coming night.
Crouching to slip beneath the low ceiling, he moved forward, bumping his foot in the process. He reached down to discover a torch, still warm. Striking a match, he lit the tightly packed reeds, throwing orange light across the walls. Centuries of the Apaches and their ancestors had packed the sandy floor hard, and the ceiling was black from their torches.
A few paces further, his light fell on a large chamber, the contents causing him to gasp.
What he saw was gold piled upon gold. And what appeared to be an equal amount of silver.
Like cordwood waiting for the fire, bars of bullion were stacked four and five feet high. Chests of coins marked with names he recognized like Carson City Mint, U.S. Army, Confederate States of America, and others lined the walls, sometimes two and three deep. Many bore the crests of Spain and what had to be those of various Spanish families. There was Aztec turquoise and Mexican silver jewelry. His eyes found the forty or so bags of gold dust from the pack train. What had appeared like such a great amount now paled in the vastness of the treasure trove.
It must have taken the Apaches a hundred years to amass such a fortune, he thought. Slowly he moved from pile to box to crate to bag, feeling, smelling, even tasting the precious metal. Unable to resist, he dropped a handful of gold coins into his pocket.
Scattered among the treasure were swords, muskets, rifles, shields, many decorated with the signs of a Spanish army long gone from the Mexican countryside.
He opened a small silver chest but was disappointed to discover it contained only a folded swatch of cloth about the size of a bandana. Propping the torch nearby, he lifted the cloth and examined it, wondering why it deserved to be among such an immense amount of treasure. In the flickering light, he saw that it bore the face of a man with long hair, mustache, and short-cropped beard, wearing what resembled a crown with a plume of feathers. The image was faint, almost as if it was part of the threads rather than painted on.
A creaking noise jolted him. He froze—his heart feeling like it had come to an abrupt halt, too afraid to beat. Then he realized it was only the trees groaning in the wind outside the cave. Nevertheless, the fleeting scare made him break a sweat—the interruption jolting him back to reality. If he was going to get any of the treasure, he’d better hurry. The Apaches would not leave this place unguarded.
He wiped the perspiration from his face with the cloth before dropping it back in the chest. He had to make a quick decision on what to take. The gold dust would be the easiest to convert into cash, and he figured the Indians would never notice one or two bags missing. Plus he had already pocketed a few coins.
He grabbed a bag and headed out of the cave. If the torch lasted long enough he’d go back for a second, but only one more. He didn’t want greed to get him killed. As he emerged from the cave, a voice startled him.
“Ah, Señor Groves, we were beginning to think you would never come out of the mountain.”
He stared into the big .44 gun barrels of the three banditos from the Santa Ana cantina. Perhaps he should have been looking over his shoulder as he tracked the Apaches.
“What have you got there, amigo?” one of them asked, his gaze falling on the bag. “Have you brought us a—”
A sudden series of thuds in quick succession caused the bandits’ bodies to go rigid, then limp. They drooped over their horses before dropping to the ground, arrow shafts protruding from their backs.
A small band of Apaches emerged from the trees. They glared at their next victim with cold indifference.
A searing pain in Groves’s chest caused him to look down. Shocked, he reeled backward. Buried in his chest was the stub of an arrow—its eagle feather fletching sticking out a few inches. His knees buckled and he collapsed, coming to rest on his back.
As he lay staring at the Apaches, feeling his warm blood pool beneath him, a low rumble filled his ears. Distant at first, it built to a roar.
Was this the sound of death?
The earth moaned and the cliff wall leaned out as if breathing. The ground vibrated, then rippled and formed waves passing like ocean swells.
The Indians’ horses struggled like standing on the swaying deck of a ship.
Now, as he knelt by the stream splashing water on this face, he remembered it all—the wrenching sound racing across the floor of the valley, the fissure slithering over the ground like a snake, swallowing everything in its path.
First the Apaches, then him.
Wall of Skulls
2012, Mexico City
Seneca left the protective tent covering the excavation to stand in the sunlight. She focused her camera at Zócalo Plaza and the gigantic Mexican flag flying in the center. Daniel came to join her.
She clicked off two shots before turning to him. Hand in hand, they took a stroll. “It’s incredible to look around and realize we’re only a few hundred feet from the Metropolitan Cathedral. Like we’re standing between two worlds in the middle of a time warp.”
Daniel squeezed her hand, then pointed to the remains of Templo Mayor behind them. “Over there is what’s left of the Wall of Skulls—a wall literally made of human skulls and covered in stucco. That tells you how much blood was spilled down the steps of that temple. I have to keep in mind that it was just a different culture—a culture ruled by its religious beliefs.”
“You don’t think what Montezuma did was wrong?”
“I didn’t say that. Only that we need to try to understand the why as well as the what and the how. We have to understand the customs and belief system of any civilization.”
They paused as he studied the ruins. “Sometimes I feel like I’m almost able to step through some fine filament of time and space and be right in the middle of their world. I’ve even touched artifacts that speak to me. Sounds weird, I know.”
“Not at all.” Seneca always marveled at his enthusiasm. His excitement was contagious and stirred her soul. “How do you put up with me? I’m such a boring purist at heart. It’s my nature to rely on the facts—the data. Sometimes I’ve wished I were less analytical.”
“Ah, but that makes for a good journalist.”
She rested her palm on his cheek and tilted her head to the side. “God, I love you, Daniel Bernal.”
He covered her hand with his. “So, before I indulged myself by climbing up on my soapbox, you were asking what could have happened to Montezuma’s remains.”
“What do you think?”
He shrugged. “It was a chaotic time. The Spanish might have forbid them from cremating the emperor. After all, cremation and the Church don’t mix well. Right now, it’s a five-hundred-year-old mystery. We’ll probably never know. I wish I could run the missing funerary jar discovery by my old mentor, Professor Flores.”
“Why don’t you? Isn’t he still here in Mexico City at the university?”
“He’s retired and moved off to some jungle island somewhere.”
“Can’t you talk the government into letting you dig up the temple and do a complete excavation? There’s no telling what else you might find.”
Daniel shook his head. “The Spaniards built right on top of Tenochtitlan. They covered up the entire Aztec city with their own. The historical value of the Spanish buildings prohibits destroying them, which is what we would have to do. We’re lucky we’ve been allowed to do this much.”
“What’s next?” Carlos, the technical assistant came to join them.
Daniel rubbed his lips with his index finger. “I’d like to make some notes before we continue exploring the tomb with the camera probe.”
Carlos and the video tech were on loan to the Mexican dig team from TV Mexicali, and unlike most of the others, Carlos spoke fluent English. He seemed to Seneca to be anxious and a bit nervous.
“Dr. Bernal told me that you might be a descendent of Montezuma?” Seneca said to Carlos.
“Yes. My family still carries the last name.”
“Moctezuma.” He emphasized the slight difference in pronunciation. “Here.” He handed her his TV Mexicali card. “See how Moctezuma is spelled.”
Seneca looked at the name, then pronounced it slowly. “Easy to understand how it morphed to Montezuma.”
“The Spanish wrote what they believed they heard,” Daniel said.
“I’ve thought about taking a different first name—a Nahuatl one, but everybody knows me as Carlos.”
“Then you must have a special interest in this site,” Seneca said as she slipped his card into her pocket.
“More than you know.”
Daniel said, “Why don’t’ we stop for lunch. I think everybody needs a break. We’ll gather back here in an hour and continue the video documentation.”
“We could go as a group.” Seneca nodded to Carlos. “I read in my guide book that there’s a famous cantina a short walk from here called Bar La Opera. Pancho Villa supposedly rode in on his horse and demanded service by firing his pistol into the ceiling. It said that the bullet hole is still there.”
“It’s for tourists,” Carlos said.
“I think I’ll stay behind,” Daniel said. “I need to spend more time on my notes. I’ll grab a bite with the rest of the team.”
The video tech came out of the tent and gestured as if to ask what to do next.
“They want to stop,” Carlos said.
“Is it safe for me to leave my gear?” Seneca held up her camera.
“All of Mexicali’s gear is here.” Carlos motioned to the handful of soldiers stationed just beyond the roped-off perimeter of the excavation. “And there are the security guards.”
The Mexican authorities had provided them to keep the curious at a distance from the dig site.
“Come on and go with us, Daniel.” She pulled at his hand. “It’ll be fun.”
“I need this time to finish up my work. And the sooner we finish, the sooner we can be on our way to the Yucatan.”
“Want me to stay with you?”
“No, you go on.”
“Then go have fun with your notes. But promise you’ll eat something.” To Carlos, she said, “Let me put my camera away and grab my purse. Don’t leave without me.” Hooking her arm in Daniel’s, they headed back to the tent.
A few moments later she reemerged and glanced around.
The video tech waved as he stood near the Wall of Skulls.
Seneca joined him. “Where’s Carlos?”
He shrugged. “Él no está aquí.”
“He left? Well, that’s strange. We had talked about going to—”
The shockwave from the explosion slammed into her with enough force to lift her into the air and toss her twenty feet across the ancient stone pavement. Crumpled and dazed, Seneca lay motionless. Finally able to open her eyes, she found herself lying at the base of Templo Mayor staring at billowing black smoke that blotted out the sky.
Her eyes drifted to the body of the video technician several feet away, his head at a peculiar angle like it had relocated from the center of his spinal column and twisted atop his shoulder. His glare was frozen and fixed in her direction.
The sound of sirens and shouts of panic filled the air. As the heaviness in her lids forced her eyes to narrow slits before finally closing, the smoke cleared long enough for her to gaze upon the Wall of Skulls.
2012, Mexico City
Seneca’s eyes fluttered open. How long had she lain there? A few moments, she guessed—maybe only a second or two as no help had yet arrived and the sky was still black with smoke. Every muscle, every joint, every bone felt aflame with pain. She struggled to sit up, coughing from the stench of smoke. Blood trickled into her eye and she wiped it away. Her fingers probed to find the source. A gash on her scalp, wet and sticky. Everything hurt. Her body shook, her lungs fought for air, her hip burned where she slammed into the ground, her eyes refused to stay open, and her ears rang with a high-pitched squeal that matched the screaming sirens and calls for help.
“Daniel!” She tried to shout, but what came from her throat was a weak and garbled wail.
Her first attempt to get to her feet failed. She plummeted back to the ground.
“Please, someone help me! Daniel. Where are you?”
Straining and grunting, Seneca drew herself up to stand, then staggered toward where the tent had once stood.
Scorched debris swirled about in small eddies and cascades over the stone pavement. The distance she struggled to walk seemed measured in miles. Bits of paper drifted down from the dirty sky like black confetti.
“Daniel!” This time her cry had some volume. She felt as if time had been reduced to a reluctant slothful beat, and everything around her was out of focus. In that sluggish Seneca-time she trudged on searching for Daniel, but seeming not to make any progress getting there. The distinct odor of seared flesh and singed hair permeated the air, dominating even the smell of the smoke. “Daniel!” The sound of her voice was warbled and distorted.
Slivers and chunks of metal, cardboard, wood, stone, and other unidentifiable rubble littered the ground. Then to her right she spotted what appeared to be a human form. She stumbled closer. Her stomach retched as she recognized it was a torso, dangling fibers and threads of tissue the only vestiges of what was once a person. Wisps of smoke drifted up from burnt cloth and skin.
Then just ahead, she saw what might be another victim. She fell to her knees beside the mangled body. “Daniel.” As she took his head and shoulders into her lap, he made a thin, tinny whistling noise, and a wet sucking sound accompanied his shallow breaths.
“Hold on. Help is coming.” Her words were stuttered with sobs. “Stay with me, babe. Hang on.”
Oh, dear God, his shirt is soaked with blood.
She tore open the buttons to find a gaping chest wound that bubbled up with frothy foam, the source of the whistling and sucking noises. She smelled the coppery scent of his blood as she placed the heel of her hand firmly over the wound trying to stop the bleeding, but blood oozed between her fingers and drizzled down in tiny crimson rivers.
There was so much blood.
And beneath her palm she felt his faint, thready, almost airy, heartbeat racing but no stronger than the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings.
“Sen?” His voice sounded thick as blood choked his words.
“Shh, don’t talk.” She heard the sirens. What was taking so long?
She cradled Daniel closer, rocking him, feeling him shivering from shock, and cursing her inability to warm him.
A police car screeched to a halt nearby.
“Over here!” She screamed and waved. “Help! Please help!”
And then she noticed the silence. The dead silence. The absence of the terrible sounds coming from Daniel’s body. The cessation of the flutter of the hummingbird. The heaviness of his body.
“No, no, no. Please, Daniel. Please, don’t leave me.”
More emergency vehicles arrived.
But it was too late.
Seneca leaned back her head and stared up at the sky. “Why? Why?” She dropped her gaze to the man she loved and gently stroked his face before pressing her lips to his forehead. Her tears mixed with his blood as she looked back into the smoke-filled sky. “Why?”
“This place gives me the creeps.” The disciple whispered into the tiny mic extending from his earpiece to just beside his mouth. His night vision goggles created an eerie green glow over the narrow passageway three levels below the main nave of Westminster Abbey. Over 3000 bodies were buried beneath the ancient London landmark, and he moved cautiously past the rows of crypts.
He and his partner were dressed in military black. The first disciple aimed a stock-mounted automatic machine pistol at the tunnel ahead while the second disciple gripped the handle of a duffel bag in one hand and an ultra-sensitive underground GPS unit in the other—its signal utilizing four miniature directional antennae secretly pre-positioned around the church. As the two men moved through the pitch black subterranean labyrinth, the second disciple whispered their location every thirty seconds. “Almost there. St. Paul’s Chapel directly overhead. Henry’s Lady Chapel just ahead, slightly to the right.”
The first disciple spotted a set of steps and stopped at their base. “This it?”
The second disciple checked the GPS display. “We’re just past it. Go up the steps.”
The first disciple glanced around before proceeding. His friend waited until the first disciple was a dozen steps above him before following.
A few moments later, they stood in the basement level just below the Lady Chapel. The second disciple again studied the GPS. “Follow the passage west until you come to a wall.”
As they moved along the tunnel, the first disciple read off the names on the marble to his right until he saw the last. “It’s a duplicate of the inscription on the main tomb above.” Aloud, he spoke the Latin, “Regno Consortes Et Urna Hic Obdor Mimus Elizabetha Et Maria Sorores In Spe Resurrectiois.”
The second disciple translated. “Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection.”
The first disciple turned to his friend. “For someone who had 300 people burned at the stake, Mary was quite optimistic she’d be coming back.”
“Probably never thought it would be this soon.”
* * *
Javier Scarrow stood in the study of the Dorchester’s roof-level Harlequin Suite overlooking Hyde Park. Darkness had enveloped London. It was the last day of his Phoenix Ministry, and even though the service had ended hours ago, thousands of faithful were still making their way out of the park. In the distance, Scarrow could see the top of the sprawling metal and glass pyramid structure that took up the majority of the northeast corner facing Marble Arch. Tomorrow morning, hundreds of workers would descend upon the Phoenix pavilion, disassemble it, and get it ready for its journey to the next destination.
Scarrow had removed his elaborate red and black ceremonial garb and was now dressed in a floor-length robe of simple white linen. He sipped Roederer Cristal as he watched the reflection in the window of the dignitaries and VIPs filling the hotel suite behind him. He recognized members of Parliament and the National Trust, London city officials, ultra rich socialites, and even a sprinkling of religious leaders, all having expressed support and dedication to his growing worldwide ministry.
He turned away from the reflection to see a young man standing next to him. The nametag said he was the public relations director of the British Museum.
“So where is your next stop?” asked the PR director.
“São Paulo.” Scarrow smiled seeing that like so many others who were drawn to his message, this man’s eyes sparkled with wonder and fascination at meeting what many were calling a modern-day prophet, a twenty-first-century messiah. Placing his hand on the man’s shoulder, he said, “Thank you for coming.”
“It’s an honor.” The director held up his glass in a toast then took a sip of his champagne. “And from São Paulo?”
“On to Moscow and Paris with a final stop in Mexico City.”
“Where you’ll prove that your message is the only hope left for the salvation of mankind?”
Scarrow nodded. “Exactly.”
“I’ve also read about your amazing crusades in so many countries—Germany, China, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan.”
“We didn’t refer to it as a crusade during our visit in Saudi Arabia. There, we simply paid a cordial visit to the Saudi monarchy in the name of helping to preserve the earth for future generations. But even they agreed with us that there are millions of souls needing guidance in every corner of the world; we are all members of a universal family that goes beyond religion and politics.”
“Truly amazing. But having heard your message of hope for the future, I can see why so many are in search of your guidance.”
From the corner of his eye, Scarrow noticed a man in a tuxedo approaching—one he so anxiously awaited.
“Good evening.” The first disciple made his way through the crowded hotel suite to where Scarrow and the young man stood. “I’m sorry to be so late.”
“I trust you bring good news?”
“Yes, very good news, but first, can I offer to have your drinks refilled, gentlemen?” He nodded to Scarrow’s empty glass, then waved to one of the catering staff.
“What would you like?” Scarrow turned to the man from the British Museum.
“More of the same, if you don’t mind.” He raised his crystal flute.
“And you, sir?” the first disciple asked Scarrow. “The same?”
“No, I want to try something different. Do you think they can make me a Bloody Mary?”
The disciple smiled. “Consider it already done.”
* * *
The warden moved silently through the subbasement of Westminster Abbey on his morning rounds. There had been reports of a small outbreak of rodents, and he used the beam of his flashlight to inspect the corners and crevices along the passageways. He had started at the lowest level and worked his way up until he was now in the basement crypts just below the Lady Chapel. Moving down the row of tombs, he noticed patches of debris in his path and small particles that reflected his light. He walked slowly, swinging the beam like a blind man’s cane, the heavy odor of earth and stone invading his nostrils. His concern grew with each sweep of the light. Was there some sort of shift in the foundation of the ancient church that caused bits of the ceiling to shower down? Perhaps it was an outbreak of mold or fungus. He’d read recently about something like that affecting the catacombs in Rome and hoped if that were the source of the particles, perhaps he had caught it before it could spread.
He approached the end of the passage, his head down, his eyes focused on the floor. Suddenly, the passageway became covered with dust and small chunks of marble. He came to a halt and slowly lifted his gaze.
“Sweet Jesus and Mary!”
Before him was a gaping hole in the side of the wall exposing the crypt of Queen Elizabeth I and her sister, Queen Mary. Shining the light into the darkness, he saw the skeletal remains of Elizabeth. But Bloody Mary was gone.
After passing through Customs, Seneca stared blankly at the luggage carousel on the arrivals level of Terminal E. She was emotionally drained and physically beaten up.
She had spent two days in the hospital after the bombing recovering from a concussion, multiple lacerations to the scalp and arms along with contusions that left widespread bruising to her hips and legs. She’d stayed on another few days for Daniel’s family to fly in from Guadalajara and make arrangements. Daniel had confided in her many times that if something were to ever happen to him, he didn’t want a funeral. He believed the cost of funerals was outrageous and that funeral directors preyed on grieving family members. All he wanted was to be cremated and his ashes sprinkled over his Mexican homeland.
She still hadn’t been able to stop asking why. Why had God let this happen? Why was she spared and Daniel taken along with the others at the dig site? But as many times as she asked those questions, no answers came. The pain of losing Daniel was incredible, sometimes so numbing that she had no emotion at all. The mind’s way of dealing with it, she thought. She and Daniel’s mother had clung to each other, sobbing as they watched Dan’s father release the ashes in the Mexican wind. Daniel had become her life—such a gentle and kind man with a great depth of understanding for all people, past and present. He didn’t deserve dying like that—no one did. He was just doing a job that he loved. It was so unfair. Survivor guilt was a terrible feeling, especially when there was no way to help find justice.
After Daniel’s family left, she grieved alone. No one should have to grieve alone. How she so needed to call her mother and be comforted by her like Seneca had been when she was a child. But her mother wouldn’t understand. Not now.
While Seneca was in the hospital, the Mexican police questioned her. She hadn’t been able to provide them with any helpful information.
The incident made front-page news across Mexico and was the lead story on all their television networks. No group had yet claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the authorities felt certain it was one of a handful of violent political groups vying for attention in the media or perhaps drug-gang related. The drug wars were escalating with each passing day. This was not the first time something like this had happened, the investigators told her.
She wanted to wake up and find it all a hideous nightmare. The irony was that even when she did sleep, her real dreams were nightmares reliving the bombing and Daniel shivering in her arms as his life drifted away. She had never really considered what death was until that moment. Now she had witnessed up close what it was like to die, and the recurring images and haunting sensory detail tortured her—the bloody torso with its trails of tissue, the smell of singed flesh and hair, Daniel’s blood-saturated shirt, the metallic odor of his blood so sharp in her nose that she could even taste it, the wheezing as his body desperately attempted to breathe. The whole process of dying was grisly and horrifying.
As the luggage started to appear in the baggage claim area, Seneca reached inside her handbag and withdrew a plastic bag with the meds prescribed for her by the Mexican doctors. She opened one amber plastic bottle, tumbled a small five-sided pill into her palm, popped it in the back of her throat and swallowed. It was hard to get it down with her dry mouth and no water. The Ativan would take the edge off. When she got home she’d take a sleeping pill. That should numb her for the night . . . or a least most of it until she woke up in a sweat, or crying, or screaming, or all of the above.
How was she going live without him? She couldn’t even remember what life had been like before Daniel. He was her first true love—the ones before him were never this deep, this real. She’d had a serious relationship with one guy while studying journalism at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. It was her junior year, his senior. When he graduated, he moved to Washington to work on his masters and the long distance along with his cheating on her with an exchange student from China quickly killed their love affair. It was a totally different story with Daniel.
Seneca had fallen for Dan as soon as she set eyes on the man. She’d been freelancing a piece on Little Salt Spring, a sinkhole on the west coast of Florida that yielded remains of animals and humans over ten thousand years old. Because the sinkhole is similar to the cenotes of the Yucatan, Daniel had paid the site a visit which happened to be at the same time Seneca was there. Both had been delighted to find out they were practically neighbors back in Miami. She was a rare Florida native. He had lived there for the past nine years teaching at the University of Miami after getting his doctorate in archaeology in Mexico. Daniel proposed a lunch date when they returned from Little Salt Spring and Seneca had eagerly accepted. That was the beginning of the magic.
It was meant to be, the two often said. Back then, coming back home had meant something to look forward to. But not this time.
Seneca watched the snake of suitcases slither along—the drone of her fellow passengers’ voices and constant whine and clatter of the conveyer spawned a fatigue in her like some kind of hypnotherapy. Her eyes tried focusing on the carousel as if it were a silver pendulum dangling before her by the hand of an invisible magician.
The luggage thinned as the passengers collected their bags and wandered off. An unclaimed suitcase and a tattered knapsack were all that remained on the carousel. She likened the reappearance of the two pieces to recurring blips on a radar screen.
Where were her bags? The anti-anxiety drug hadn’t had time to kick in and the stress inside was intensifying. Seneca paced from one end of the carousel to the other, ending where the bags emerged from the shoot. Finally, the conveyor ground to a stop. She leaned over and looked through the rubber-flap ribbons in case her bags were somehow jammed behind them.
The explosion had destroyed her camera gear, photo disks, audiotapes, laptop, and notes from the second day of the interview. Losing those and all her other personal items and clothing seemed to be a final, cruel blow. What else could she lose—could be yanked away from her?
Her head hurt, and she thought about taking a painkiller, but decided that might be unwise. She tried some slow, easy breathing.
The last of the passengers disappeared into the humid South Florida night leaving Seneca standing alone. Soon, a baggage handler came to remove the two unclaimed pieces from the carousel.
“Hey!” She scurried over to the man. “Any more back there? My bags never came out.”
“That’s it, lady.” He hefted up the two orphaned pieces and started to walk away. “You can follow me to lost baggage and make a report.”
Seneca looked at her watch. It was nearly one in the morning; she was dead on her feet. The passing thought with the word dead in it made a rush of sudden dizziness sweep through her followed by a wave of nausea.
“You okay, lady?”
“Just tired from my flight.” She followed him to lost luggage.
* * *
After leaving the airport’s long-term parking lot, Seneca made her way to the Dolphin Expressway and finally onto 27th Avenue. She was thankful for the sparse, middle-of-the-night traffic as she drove her ice white Volvo south. She considered putting the convertible top down but decided she didn’t need the noise right now. The whoosh of the wind with the top down was something she loved. So did Daniel. Tonight she wanted quiet.
Her thoughts were filled with images of Daniel, his infectious smile, his boyish giggle, and the life they had planned. After their dream wedding, they would move into a spacious new apartment overlooking Biscayne Bay. He would continue teaching at the University of Miami while she advanced her career as a journalist. Getting the exclusive on Montezuma’s tomb because of Daniel was an omen of how right they were for each other. But all that had come to a devastating end. Daniel was gone, and so befitting, the Mexican government declared the dig site off limits and ordered the small hole used by the camera probe sealed. If Montezuma’s tomb still remained intact below the cobblestones of Zócalo Plaza, it would be as much an unsolved mystery as the emperor’s missing ashes. The excavation ended in a flash of death at a place with such a violent past—the Wall of Skulls.
She was heartsick at the possible loss of her luggage. Not so much for her personal belongings but her bag contained the last pictures she had of Dan preserved on her photo disks. There were also her notes of the interview with him and the recording of his voice—all had been stuffed in her luggage. Not only would she lose those wonderful images of his smiling face and sweet voice, but the items needed to write her story would be gone.
The Mexican police felt the bombing was to gain notoriety—perhaps to instill fear or destabilize the tourist trade, disrupt the economy. They recited a dozen reasons. And she was sure the police were right. What a waste of innocent lives. These people, these terrorists had no soul, no conscience. They were totally self-absorbed bastards. They didn’t even have the balls to declare responsibility. She felt her hands clenching the steering wheel and her teeth grinding, her brows furrowing deep into her forehead so much it was making her squint.
“Stop it!” You’re going to drive yourself nuts. Let it go, for God’s sake.
Something drew her attention to the traffic in her rearview mirror. It was a set of double headlights—lights with orange fog lamps below them—that had been behind her since leaving MIA. While other cars passed or turned onto side streets, the one with the orange fog lamps stayed steady in her wake about a half block back. Even with the light traffic, it would be highly unusual for the same car to keep pace with her for so many miles unless it was intentional.
She changed lanes and watched the trailing vehicle duplicate the move. Out of nervousness, Seneca turned off the radio—one less distraction. The singing of the tires on the pavement and the hum of the motor replaced the music as she steered her C70 south. She fixed her eyes on the reflection of the car’s headlights in the mirror. Only ten minutes to her Coconut Grove apartment. Watching the now-familiar headlights follow, a peculiar notion hurtled into Seneca’s head.
“Let’s have a test,” she said to the reflection. When she got to the intersection at South Dixie Highway, rather than going straight into the Grove, she would turn and head north. If the car in her mirror kept on going, she could attribute it up to nothing more than a creepy feeling from an overburdened and fatigued mind.
Without flipping on her blinker, she whipped north onto Dixie.