TROUBLE IN MAYAPAN
A Norreys Jewel Adventure
By Andre Norton
6: “My Price? Above Garnets--But Offer me Rubies---”
The tortured shriek of ungreased ox-cart wheels mingled with the purr or clang of well or ill-treated motors and drifted through the windows of the Casa Negro. Maya City was coming awake for the evening. Peter tried to forget the dragging heat as with sticky fingers he coaxed a shirt button into its proper hole. The muggy atmosphere of the afternoon had been about all he could stand. And yet the inhabitants of this steam bath said that the sea winds of Maya City were heavenly cool compared to the turgid heat of the jungle!
A pile of sweat blotched papers on the table represented some hours of work. On the top one was a fairly credible drawing of the jade jaguar.
“Gift of the old ones---” he repeated as his eyes fell upon it now.
But what had Kane said? That the `old ones’ of legends were not always amiable. What had Carter been doing during those last few weeks of his life?
Under the drawing of the jaguar were written four questions, underlined heavily with the same pencil.
1. Who is Aubrey Romanes?
2. Where did Carter get the images?
3. Who sent me the jaguar? Why?
4. What is Kane's mysterious business?
Just now that last question seemed the most important. Ever since their first day in Maya City the Norreys man had become more and more elusive, abrupt and impatient---almost as if he wished he could rid himself of Peter. And yet it had been Van Norreys and Kane together who had brought him to Mayapan. What was the matter with Kane?
The more he, Peter Lord, probed and asked questions, the less he found out. All he had managed to establish so far was that Aubrey Romanes apparently had never existed and that Carter's business was different from what he had thought it to be.
“Hi!” Kane looked around the door. “Up and ready for the road, eh? How do you like this daily nap stuff?” This was the earlier Kane-- the Kane of New York.
Peter blinked. “I can't get the trick of sleeping in day time.”
“You'll learn if we stick around here long enough. Feel up to trying a spot of night life?”
`Night Life’ to Peter meant Dona Eustacia's establishment and for one startled moment he thought Kane might be proposing a second visit there.
“We've a dinner invitation,” the other went on to explain. “Norgate, I'm sure, sees in us prospective customers. And he isn't far wrong. But tonight he's going to do the honors at a place down by the bay which is supposed to provide the cafe society of this fair city with excitement.”
“You say Norgate isn't far wrong-- about thinking of us as customers, I mean---”
Kane dropped down on the edge of the bed. “You haven’t located Romanes yet, have you?”
“No luck at the consulate, mines registry office or elsewhere?”
“No-- how did you---”
“How did I know?” Kane's eyebrows were arcs of polite surprise. “Well, I assumed you would visit all those sources first. As you did. But I had made a few inquiries too. Rather queer, don't you think, about this Romanes. One might guess that he possessed the secret of invisibility if---”
“If they hadn't sent me the dope on him from Washington. Aubrey Romanes was a Technical Sergeant of Engineers stationed in Maya City in the Engineer Supply Depot. He took his discharge here in 1945.”
“But where did he go? Nobody seems to know anything about him.”
“Yeah, I heard that, too. Queer, deuced queer, isn't it? There is a strong scent of fish in this business, very old fish. It's almost as if someone or ones do not wish Mr. Romanes to be discovered.”
“The guy at the registry never sent that record he promised either, Peter suddenly remembered. He explained quickly about the missing file.
Kane lit a cigarette. “Too, too interesting. The way everything vanishes when one name is mentioned is smelly-- to say the least. And Mr. Masterson remains conveniently out of town. Well, what would you say to a little hunting trip-- inland?”
“The Rio Jaguar country, maybe?”
Kane laughed. “Bright boy. So you've tumbled to that point? Yeah, the Rio Jaguar country seems indicated. That's where big bad some things prowl the dark after foolhardy explorers, or so they say. If Romanes has made any sort of a find in the other river sections or in the tributaries of the Monaco, rumors would be all over the place. There's a bush telegraph operating here, just as it does in the islands or in Africa. But the Rio Jaguar seems to be closed country. If anyone has gone tramping around in there, he's either never returned, or he's keeping very quiet. So we shall dine with Norgate and allow him to persuade us to take a trip via his carrier service. The only way to go into that district is by air. And I have a feeling that once Norgate is hired, he'll stick!”
“Won't it cost a lot?”
“This is a Norreys' gamble. We've thrown the dice before and had sevens turn up-- with smaller hopes of winning, too. That option you signed in New York is worth a little cruising in Norgate's amphibian.”
The soft dusk was beginning to thicken into night as Norgate drove up to the Casa Negro in a trim jeep. His smart uniform had been discarded in favor of a light linen suit and Peter wished that he felt as cool as the other looked.
“Genuine American dishes,” Norgate said as the jeep swerved around two laden donkeys and avoided by several inches an abrupt meeting with a large and shiny roadster. “The tourists-- first they want the exotic-- the new-- the native foods of Mayapan. Then they discover that these are not to the Norte Americano taste-- that they do not lie well in the stomach. And so they come gratefully to the `Fifth Avenue’-- just as the wealthy Mayapanians go there to taste the exotic Norte Americano food and revel in a real foreign atmosphere imported directly from New York City itself. It is considered very new, different, and smart.”
The Fifth Avenue was housed in a big building set on a point of land stretching out into the bay. Lighted windows and the loud notes of a swing band suggested that the place was open for business.
“Snakes alive!” was Kane's thunderstruck comment as Norgate ushered them into the one big room which appeared to cover the whole ground floor of the place. Peter stared a bit wildly at the violent mural paintings on the nearest wall and swallowed hard. He considered his vocabulary not adequate for the moment.
Kane turned to Norgate. “Is this the Mayapian idea of what goes on in the United States?” he demanded.
The flyer chuckled richly. “But are not similar atrocities committed against friendly nations by restaurants in our own country? The food-- I promise you that-- is superior to the decoration. And do not begrudge the simple people of Mayapan their right to enjoy this strange foreign atmosphere.”
“I only trust you are right-- about the food---”murmured Kane. He caught full sight of a mural, snapped away his eyes and shuddered visibly. “My stomach is not geared to the neo-impressionistic in art.”
Peter watched with dogged fascination the weird antics of the band. They wore the conventional style of evening dress, but the suits were made of brilliant scarlet and blue cloth. And the affect upon the eyes was almost as stunning as the torture of the ear drums for which they were also responsible.
Norgate took up the menu and ordered with the rapid sureness of a patron who knew both the good and the bad features of the house. When he had done he pointed with no little pride to the three glasses the waiter set ceremoniously before them.
“That, my friends, is real ice water! A triumph which you could understand better only if you were an old timer on this coast. There are only two American refrigerators in Maya City, one here and the other in the Presidential Palace. And the one in the Palace does NOT have a deep freeze!”
Kane shook his head sadly and then involuntarily clapped his hands to his ears to shut out the last dying wail of the band. “How civilization does follow one about! Alas, nowadays the deep freeze is always with us---”
“One hundred miles from here men hunt their food with blowguns and strings of beads of certain colors are the accepted medium of exchange,” Norgate pointed out. “A hundred and fifty miles from here you are off the maps---”
“Which is just where we want to be---”
“Eh!” Norgate's eyes narrowed. “In which direction, please?”
“What do you know about the Rio Jaguar country?”
“Enough to keep me out of it. Never been explored-- can contain anything from tribes of white Indians to prehistoric monsters. Looking for either?”
“No. Just an emerald mine.”
Norgate transferred a forkful of lettuce from salad plate to his mouth and crunched it slowly.
“Emeralds-- One of Carter's deals?” his attention swung to Peter.
The boy nodded almost before he thought. “He wrote me just before he died that one of his porkknockers had made a rich strike-- he sent a sample---”
“And that brought Norreys into it, of course. Emeralds-- could be, could be, The Rio Jaguar country---” The flyer was musing aloud and plainly thinking hard. “I'd have to do some checking. When do you want to start?”
“If the weather permits we’d like to make a preliminary flight the end of this week.”
“It's tricky country back there. A storm over the jungle is tough, very tough. Cold rain hits the warm jungle-- result a fog which you have to see to believe. And if you guess wrong on the landing-- it's curtains. As a lot of our chaps discovered a few years ago. It'll cost you----”
“I'll sign any reasonable check. You'll take the job then?”
“I'm probably a double-sized fool, but I've always had a yen to take a look-see over that way. With someone else to foot the bill-- well, brother, it’s a deal! If you want to come back to the office tonight I can scrape together some facts and figures----”
A blast of the so-called music drowned him out and Peter turned to glare at the band. Only, instead, he found himself facing the entrance and the two men who stood there. Both were sleekly tailored in white linen mess jackets and dark dress trousers, too well dressed even for the garish smartness of the Fifth Avenue. The smaller man lit a cigar from a lighter flashing with gems. His outsize bulb of nose with its eyebrow fringe of mustache was thrown into relief against the green neck of one of the mural monstrosities. Peter caught Kane's cuff.
Kane glanced up. But Norgate caught that urgent whisper too and answered it without looking at the newcomers.
“Mr. Mannerheim is a regular and most popular patron of the Fifth Avenue. He is one of our leading representatives of Big Business. And doubtless he is now accompanied by Mr. Kurt Gloss.”
“A tall Aryan with yellow hair and a good set of teeth?” Kane's voice carried no farther than their small circle of three.
“The better to eat you with,” quoted Norgate, still without shifting his attention from his plate. “Yes, that is our Mr. Gloss in athletic person. Handsome Tarzan isn't he? And one of the boys at all times-- just one of the boys!”
“I might go poking around an atom bomb just for the hell of it-- I wouldn't care to disturb Mr. Gloss‘ slumbers without due authorization,” returned Norgate dryly.
“Like that, eh?”
“Very much like that.”
“And with what sort of labor does our Mr. Gloss soil his hands-- or doesn’t he earn his living?” Kane offered an open cigarette case to the flyer.
“He manages an experimental rubber plantation.” Norgate's answer was a little too flat and colorless as he selected a cigarette.
“I wonder if I should now suddenly develop a burning interest in experimental rubber stations---” Kane murmured, as they watched Mr. Mannerheim and Mr. Gloss being led in a triumphant processional across the room to the very best table, the manager himself arriving to whip off the `reserved’ card.
“I wouldn't,” Norgate blew a perfect smoke ring and watched it waft away. “Your connection with Norreys is a little too well known. Too much knowledge at the wrong time is a dangerous thing.”
“In what direction does this rubber station experiment?”
“Geographically or chemically?” Norgate signed the check the waiter handed him. “The latter I cannot answer. As for the former-- it is somewhere on the upper reaches of the Monaco-- western bank.”
Kane frowned down at the table cloth. “I'd like to see a map.”
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure at this moment than to show you one. Shall we withdraw to the headquarters of the Norgate Enterprises, gentlemen?”
“A humming hive of industry by day and, as you perceive, a tomb by night,” Norgate commented as they climbed the stairs which led to his office. “We have one Estaban La Cruz for a watchman but he never seems to be doing much watching.” De turned the key in the lock and snapped on the overhead light.
“Now here is the map you want.” Norgate unrolled a wide strip of canvas-backed paper and dropped it on wall hooks prepared for such duty. It was, Peter saw, a large scale map of Mayapan, larger than any he had seen before. The coastal districts were exact and marked in detail but inland were large squares of virgin white, bearing no landmarks.
“The Monaco--” Kane ran his forefinger up the crooked black snake which was the representation of one of the two major rivers of the country. “Western bank-- hmmm?”
“Right about here-- by all accounts,” Norgate's brown finger tapped a point far inland.
“How informative! Right on the border of the Rio Jaguar country. Yet apparently Mr. Gloss has not had any trouble with all the horrors which are supposed to make life interesting in that part of the world?”
“He has never complained of any. Rather peculiar, don't you think?”
“Peculiar is no word for it---” Kane was beginning when a voice from behind interrupted him.
“Capitan, Capitan Norgate!”
The barrel of a pistol, surely the first cousin to those used by eighteenth century highwaymen, was what they saw first. But behind the pistol was a stocky little man whose mouth fell open with real surprise when the flyer turned.
“Estaban! But why the cannon, man?” Norgate demanded in Spanish. “Am I a wrongdoer to be hunted down with bullets from the gun of a brave man such as Esteban La Cruz?”
“But Señor Capitan, it is you yourself that stands here?”
“Myself in the flesh. Did you expect to come upon a murderer with blood dripping hands?”
Esteban shook his head slowly. “Not a murderer, Señor Capitan. But perhaps a thief. Even such a one as visited this room when Señor Lord was here---”
Peter moved. “What do you mean-- a thief visited Señor Lord?”
Estaban's thin neck twisted a little as he looked up at this tall Yanqui who had snapped the question at him.
“Eet ees so, Señor,” he answer in slow English. “On the cloak of San Martin weal I swear eet. While yet the Señor Lord lay on hees bed of seeckness, there was a thief who entered thees room. Een the morning Señor Masterson came to get some papers for Señor Lord and he found the lock broken and everything upset. That was when I was not here, you understand. I had gone to San Lorenzo to visit my son. He had a new feeshing boat bought from the Yanqui soldiers and weeshed me to see eet. I was in San Lorenzo when thees outrage happened. And that beeg peeg of an Enrique Villa-- the second cousin of my wife-- who was to take my place as watchman saw nothing. He ees of that nature, Señores, being so stupid as not to see an alligator een hees path until the creature bites heem! Which weel someday happen even as I have said!”
“And what was stole: from Señor Lord at that time?” asked Kane as the other paused for breath.
Esteban shrugged. “Eet ees not known, Señores. Señor Lord was very eell. He did not recover. Only he could tell what was missing and he was not able. After hees death Señor Masterson came and took all the papers away. Eet was never said what was missing----”
“Masterson tell you anything about this?” Kane asked Peter. The boy shook his head.
“This is the first I've heard of it,”
“Funny,” Norgate was frowning. “This is the first I've heard of it, too, and stories like that get around this berg quick enough-- especially when they concern members of the foreign colony. Well, Esteban, we are no thieves and these Señores have business with me. When we leave I shall lock all the doors behind me.”
“Bueno, Señor Capitan---”
Kane returned to the map. “I see that you have sketched in part of the Rio Jaguar country---”
“That's the result of guess-work mostly, piecing together stories told by the boys who flew over that portion of it during the war. It's a tough territory all right.”
“But you'll be willing to try to get us into it by air-- for a price?”
Norgate laughed. “My price-- it's above garnets-- but offer me rubies!”
“Would emeralds do?”
“Okay, emeralds. But if you are really intending to enter the jungle at that point there's only one man I know of in Maya City who can give you the latest and best dope on the lay of the land. And he's Curly Downes.”
“No, though he used to stake a few of them, old timers he took a liking to. In fact, your brother, Lord, sort of took over some of his business when Downes officially retired about a year ago. Curly Downes was a soldier of fortune, one of the old Richard Harding Davis crop of professional fighters who used to find the banana republics a happy hunting ground about forty years ago. Curly's fought under more flags than most of us know exist. And he knows more about South and Central America than any of our so-called experts.”
“Just the man we need. Do you suppose we can go calling---”
“Why not? I've the jeep here. I can get you out to his place in a half hour. And I'll bet if there are any emeralds in the Rio Jaguar or any place else in this rain soaked country Curly can tell you about them.”
“Pretty late to go calling on an elderly man,” Kane consulted his wrist watch.
“Curly doesn't consider himself old. And his idea of a reasonable bed time is about dawn. So we can make it easily. Also-- if Curly takes a liking to you or your plans, his good will, will make a lot of difference. He still has lines out in strange places, has General Curly Downes!”
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.