TROUBLE IN MAYAPAN
A Norreys Jewel Adventure
By Andre Norton
4: First Appearance of a Jade Jaguar.
Thin grey fingers of daylight thrust through the slatted blinds at the two windows. Peter rubbed eyes smarting with sleep. Something had awakened him-- what? There were no street noises and even the parakeets in the patio had forgotten their quarrel for the night.
He did not turn on the bedside light but held his watch close. “Five o'clock----”
The answer to that was a scraping noise from the far window of the room. Peter's head snapped around in time to see the wooden screen swing inward. He pulled free of the sheets and pushed through the slit in the mosquito netting.
He lacked the latest in silencer equipped automatics. The only thing which might provide a suitable defense weapon was the water jug on the table. And it was certainly impossible to move as silently as the heroes in books all seemed able to, his feet unerringly found every squeaking board in the floor.
The screen was pushed back against the wall now. And in the ghostly half light was silhouetted the outline of round head and hunched shoulders, as the intruder paused, hands on the sill, ready to pull himself through. Peter wondered fleetingly what had happened to the bars which had been in place to guard his privacy the evening before.
Then that outline melted, flowed in. Peter edged along the wall. Judging by the slight sounds his quarry was trying the same form of progress---in the opposite direction---toward the bed in the corner. Then, when his back was at the open window, Peter fleshed his torch---straight at that betraying rustle.
And, in the same instant that the light impaled him, the intruder spoke.
“Señor!” He had been facing the bed, but now he wheeled to stare into the light, his eyes wide and dazzled, his mouth open in startled amazement.
“What do you want?” Peter demanded in Spanish.
But his visitor had made a swift recovery and he returned readily enough.
“To speak with you, Señor.”
“Is it then necessary to creep like an evildoer in the night to speak with me? An honest man uses the door---”
The man in the circle of light grinned. “For neither of us would that be good, Señor. As you must realize. As a messenger, I am a man of little importance-- yet it would not be well for any to remember my coming. I have brought you-- as was arranged-- the gift from the old ones.
From within his tattered and dirty shirt he took a small package which he tossed onto the pillow of the bed beside him. Then, with the agility of a serpent, he threw himself down, out of the spear-head of light. Before Peter could move a shadow was clawing at the bathroom door, and that barrier slammed full in the boy's face. As his fist crashed on the wood he heard the bolt shot.
It took minutes to unlock the outer door, run down the few feet of corridor to Kane's room, to arouse the sleeper there and get in---only to discover that that door to the bathroom was also bolted.
“I would suggest,” Kane sank down on the bed, “That we cease these games. If he has bottled himself up in the bathroom without considering that it lacks an exit-- then we can get him whenever he decides to quit playing hide and seek and comes out. But in my opinion he has already fought his way out through that window near the ceiling-- small as it is-- and is halfway across the city-- leaving us with the little problem of how to get those doors open. Have you yet investigated the gift he came bearing-- sure it isn't an atom bomb?”
“Not yet.” Deflated, Peter went back to his own room, Kane following.
The packet still dented the pillow. It was small, but, as Peter discovered when he lifted it, surprisingly heavy.
A coarse yellowed cloth formed the outer wrapping, stained here and there with dull brown spots. Inside was another and finer bit of fabric bearing an odd regular pattern of angular beasts marching in rows. Peter pulled this away somewhat impatiently, to find that he held cupped in his hand a small figure of green stone. He had only time to identify it as some sort of a cat when Kane took it from him.
“Jaguar or puma. And I'll wager that this piece is old-- the design is not far from primitive. But why?---”
Peter shook his head. “You know as much about it as I do.”
“Your friend called it a `gift from the old ones‘, did he? But gave you no reason why you should be so honored. Well, not all the `old ones‘ of legend are amiable-- in this or any other country.” Kane set the image down on the table. “I would suggest that our fanged friend here be put in the hotel safe, until we can find out more about his past. And right now we had better get busy on concocting some kind of a convincing tale as to why the bathroom is locked up in such a peculiar fashion. Unless you are in the mood to tell the fantastic but unvarnished truth---?”
Peter laughed. “D'you think any one would believe me? Night time visitors usually come to abstract something, instead of to leave it. I don't want to get the reputation of being slightly off balance---”
So the jaguar went into the safe of the Casa Negro and the night manager was regaled with a story of a night prowler driven off which properly shocked him into action. Action in this case meaning that Kane and Peter must relate their adventure in invented detail to a somewhat sleepy member of the Maya City police force who appeared to be more awed by his own remarkable energy in being up and about so early in the morning.
“That's that,” Kane observed without originality as the Sergeant, or Inspector, or whatever he was, bowed himself out. “Something tells me that we have now started the spinning of a web of governmental red tape. I only trust that we shall not end by being the flies caught in its meshes Now-- what are your plans for this bright and shining morning? I have, I must admit, some errands regarding our equipment requiring my attention. What have you in mind?”
The dismissal was so pointed Peter almost demanded why. Kane fidgeted about the room; plainly he was in a hurry to be off---alone.
“Oh, I shall find plenty of occupation.” Peter snapped and reached for his hat. But Kane made no answer to his outburst of irritation, he was already through the door, a wave of his hand signaling good bye.
Peter walked slowly along the corridor. There were several things he could do--- locate Tomás and continue to explore the haunts of the porkknockers, try the consulate again, and even visit Norgate's office in the hope that its present tenant could remember something more of his brother’s affairs. But he couldn't make up his mind as to what to do first. Save for an ox-cart, a soldier on a motorcycle, and two women carrying an immense amount of their personal property balanced on their heads, the street outside was empty.
“Hello there, Mr. Lord!”
Fate had decided for him. It was Crispin Norgate, very smart in his braided uniform coat and cap, who was crossing the cobbles of the pavement toward him.
Norgate sniffed the air. “Morning coffee! Now the morning coffee of Mayapan resigns one to every drawback of the country-- even black flies and djiggas. Perhaps you haven't heard of djiggas yet. But you will, oh, you will, if you continue to reside within our borders long enough, they are nasty little beggars, burrow into the skin of your feet and start housekeeping and raising families right away. But morning coffee can make you forget even them!”
“What about letting me judge that for myself-- with you as a guide?” asked Peter impulsively. “Can we indulge here?”
Norgate smiled happily. "Can you get it here? Let me tell you, Norte Americano, nowhere in Maya City can you get such coffee as is brewed here. It is a dream of coffee, a poem of the bean, an ecstasy in the mouth-- Coffee-- no man has really tasted coffee until over his tongue has flowed the beverage served by the Casa Negro.” He had led the way toward a series of small tables set around the edge of the patio. To Peter's surprise the chairs here were mostly filled by stoutish or lath thin middle-aged men, taking their ease, each with a cup before him.
“See,” Norgate had lowered his voice as they found a table for themselves, “Here assembled is the `big money' of Mayapan's business world. When a man comes to the Casa Negro for his morning coffee he proclaims to the world that he is a man of wealth and substance. There is Señor Ricardo Oberen of the Fruit Lines, Señor Sancho Aruba who owns the sugar brokerage---”
“And Captain Crispin Norgate of the Ferry Service.” added Peter, regarding warily the cup which had appeared before him. Mayapanians apparently liked their coffee black-- very black.
“True. From the first I have come here for coffee, because it is good advertisement-- just as I wear this uniform. I shall be seen and remembered when someone of this company has a little errand up country. Where there are no flying fields my amphibian is the only swift way of travel. The journey which would take weeks to travel by canoe, I can cover in a day. And they are beginning to realize that. Within a short time Mayapan will no longer be a country of ox carts and Indian canoes.”
“Are there many Indians left?”
“More Indians than Spanish or half-bloods. Most of these coast people have a certain percentage of native blood-- as is true in Brazil, Guiana, any South American country. It has given them endurance and stamina-- this mixture of blood. For the tropics are not for the European or the Anglo-Saxon Norte Americano. So along the coast we have mixed bloods-- and in the jungle-- well, who knows?”
“What do you mean by that?”
Norgate put down his cup. “Legends, stories. You perhaps have heard of that old favorite which has been told about every country from Mexico south-- about the tribe of white Indians hidden away in the jungle? But there have been cities swallowed up there, cities in which no white man ever set foot. Some of them we have sighted from the air-- in Guatemala, Yucatan, Peru, Ecuador-- The history of these lands before the coming of the Spaniards is a closed book. All we have is bits, guesses, surmises, based on this and that bit of evidence which may be read different ways.”
“Look,” from his pocket he produced and unfolded a small map. “This is the latest map of Mayapan. See this border line, running here and here? Only maybe it doesn't run in that direction at all! That border has never been surveyed because it runs along the Rio Jaguar and the Rio Jaguar is unknown territory. We have no idea where the head waters of that river lie. This map, except for a strip of about a hundred and fifty miles in from the coast is pure guess work. I have, been able to add a point or two to it myself within the past six months. This tributary of the Santa Rosa, I landed there with some supplies for a diamond buyer's bush shop. But before I touched there it wasn’t on the map. So that being true-- how can anyone say what-this country holds? You ought to talk to Piast-- he thinks he can guess what is back in there-- makes a darn good story of it too!”
“Who is Piast?”
“A Pole-- refugee from the war days. He was in the British trained Polish Legion during the war, but was invalided out right after V-E day. He couldn't go back to Poland because he doesn't see eye to eye with the Communists. So he drifted in here-- to wait for a visa for the United States. Then he sort of fell in love with the country, and now he's settled here for good. He used to be on the staff of a museum in Warsaw and now he runs a curio shop. Which, by the way, you shouldn't miss visiting. If you have an hour or so, I'll take you over there now.”
Peter swallowed the last of the coffee, which, to his mind, fell far short of Norgate's extravagant claims for it, and nodded.
But the building to which the flyer guided him bore very little resemblance to any antique shop he had ever seen before.
“Sure this isn't the local Bastille?” he demanded. Norgate laughed.
“It was a fort at one time sure enough. A fragment of Mayapan's blood spotted history stands there. This was the private town residence of General Zalvada Morgales-- who came to a sticky end about 1915. President Sam of Haiti wasn't the only dictator to be broken into small souvenir pieces by towns-people who disagreed with his beliefs.”
“That is one reason why Piast was able to buy the place for a lot less than it is worth. Morgales is supposed to run screaming down the steps from the balcony on the third and fifth of each month-- or something like that. You won't find a native Mayapanian within its doors after nightfall.”
“Much business for an antique store here?”
“Some. And there's going to be more! Maya City is a natural for the tourist trade. A lot of our boys who were down here during the war realized that. We have a fairly healthy climate-- and it will be a better one-- whenever Jim Harrison gets through with his swamp project. He has a commission from the government to use DDT where it will do the most good and he's draining the delta land at the river mouth for truck gardening. Then there're De la Torre and Espenz, American trained Mayapanians, they bought up two LST and are establishing a coastwise shipping business. Carlos Martin-- he was a Major in the Mayapanian Air Force until he had a bad crash at Anzio-- you know Mayapan sent an army corps overseas to the Italian front-- has gone in with a couple of our guys and they are setting up a nice little money maker-- a conducted tour of the jungle country for two weeks with a spot of big game shooting added. Now if they could only locate Piast's city as another attraction---” Norgate pulled at the massive latch on the old, solid wooden slab which formed the front door of the late General Morgales' town house.
“Yes” Norgate ushered Peter into a small hallway where two chairs faced each other austerely. “Piast thinks that there's a lost city back in the tall grass somewhere. He sure makes a good story out of it. Don't worry, he'll spill it quick enough-- it's his favorite topic of conversation. And this is the shop.”
The showroom occupied one large room which had the appearance of having been intended for reviewing an army corps. There was a sprinkling of heavy colonial furniture carved from heartwood mahogany and other and rarer jungle woods. Lying on chest tops and on tables, roughly arranged as to general types of wares, were the less valuable bits of Gregori Piast's stock in trade. As the two Americans entered the proprietor himself bobbed up to greet them.
He was a small man, very neat and with a sharp, clean line to his spare body, as if he had been cut from a piece of smooth grayish paper by a pair of shears. His hair was as silver gray as his coat and it lay sleekly across his rather large head. A hawk's beak of nose pointed aggressively at the world, but the smile with which he spoke was very real and warm.
“Got e minute to show us around, Gregori?” asked Norgate. “This is another crazy Norte Americano in search of treasure---”
“If it is the treasure of the mind-- then Mayapan will reward him,” the other returned in a soft precise voice. “This is a country of many secrets, Señor. And to the right man it will, perhaps, yield one of two of them. You are interested in antiquities?”
“I don’t know very much about them,” Peter answered with haste. “My name is Lord, I'm Carter Lord's brother---”
“Oh, but then you will, of course, be most interested in the animals-- your brother's own find----”
Piast's needle fingers fastened on Peter's sleeve and he pulled the boy to the very table where he had been at work when they came in.
“See, here, they are. I have not yet catalogued them properly. In fact, Mr. Lord, I sometimes wonder if they can be catalogued at all-- since so little is known about them. Why were they made-- as mediums for exchange, as ornaments, as religious offerings?” He pushed into Peter's hands one of the small objects.
It was the carving of an animal, right enough, but the grotesque form was beyond Peter's power to classify. The thing had either two tails, one at each end of its body or the nose was utterly out of proportion.
“That is an ant eater, not quite realistic, you understand, but yet the image of an ant eater. And the man who designed it was an artist-- and artist in gem carving, worthy to be ranked with the Tairomas of Columbia. They did the best gold-work of ancient South America. The Incas came late into this land-- there were others before them. What of the Timote peoples who built the mysterious raised roadways of Venezuela? There are stories---. Yes, I see you smiling, Crispin Norgate, at my fairy tales. Well listen, both of you, buried deep in many fairy tales there is a shining grain of truth. And no man knows what lies waiting back in the jungle there.”
“Why, even in your own United States have not unexplained wonders only recently come to light? Your brother, Mr. Lord, gave to me a magazine in which there was an article written by one of your scientists about a community of forgotten towers found deep in the heart of one of your southwestern states! And the builders of those square towers are unknown! Just as the man who fashioned this tree sloth, this alligator, this bat, is unknown!”
“Where did Carter get them?”
“From up river. One of his men-- the men whom he staked for prospecting-- sent them down to him. But from where we do not know.”
Piast set the sloth he held back on the table. “Perhaps you, Mr. Lord, may find somewhere among your brother's papers a clue as to where these came from. It is my dream!” Piast spoke almost shyly now, “It is my cherished dream, to discover somewhere in the unknown green a city. The Mayas were the business men of the pre-Columbian world. Although their great cities were mostly built in Yucatan, they roved over most of the gulf in their double freight canoes, penetrating into the mouth of the Mississippi in the north, building trading stations in Cuba and the islands, coming perhaps even here to Mayapan.”
“There is a legend concerning how this country was named-- on the very old Spanish maps it has always been so marked---. The first European explorer to reach this shore, Don Ramon San Martin, found a carven stone figure standing by the river mouth, a figure which resembled to his eye the ones he had seen in Yucatan. So that he believed at first that here he had found another branch of that nation. Only there were no stone cities, no villages even of coastal tribes. Something or someone had swept the land clean of human beings long before the coming of Dan Ramon. Why-- why had that happened here? Perhaps had those explorers not broken to pieces that single monument-- as they did under the direction of their leader who feared it as an idol-- we might have learned. But they dropped even the pieces of it into the bay?”
“Was it the sign of a Mayan trading station? Or a warning notice posted to keep intruders out of the country? Who made these carvings? They are not Inca, or Maya or any other native culture which I have been able to find records of. Can the old stories of lost Atlantean colonies be true? The puzzle, Mr. Lord, is enough to occupy a man for life.”
“Could these have come from the Rio Jaguar country?” asked Norgate balancing a two inch replica of a vampire bat between thumb and forefinger.
“Where else? But when I speak of the Rio Jaguar country what do I hear? Much of fever, bad Indies, thick jungle, no land for a white man! Always, always do they talk so-- do these porkknockers and jungle traders. But these images I shall send to my good friend in American-- Mr. Frederick Leffenwell of the Hanbacker Museum. In America there is money for knowledge seekers, perhaps he can secure for us the financial backing we must have to go and find the source of these. I am a patient man, Mr. Lord. The world during these years just past have taught most of us to be patient. I can wait two years-- three-- five-- but someday I shall go to find my city!”
Digitized and edited by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lotsawatts ~ February, 2016
Never before seen novel by Andre Norton
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Victor Horadam
Duplication of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.