"Luis, Rosa, please sift. Tempe and I will dig. Juan, haul dirt. We'll rotate as needed."
Mateo had a small, V-shaped scar on his upper lip that broadened into a U whenever he smiled. Today, the V remained narrow as a spike.
"Elena, document and photograph. Skeletal inventory, artifact inventory, photo log. Every molecule goes on record."
"Where are Carlos and Molly?" asked Elena.
Carlos Menzes was a member of an Argentine human rights organization who'd been advising the FAFG since its formation in 1992. Molly Carraway was an archaeologist newly arrived from Minnesota.
"They're driving the other truck out here for transport. We'll need another vehicle when we're ready to leave with all the equipment and artifacts."
He glanced at the sky.
"The storm is two hours off, maybe three if we're lucky. Let's find these people before there's more legal bullshit."
As I collected trowels and placed them in a bucket tied to a length of rope, Mateo zipped the court order into his pack and hung it over a crossbar. His eyes and hair were black, his body a fire hydrant, short and thick. Tubes of muscle bulged in his neck and arms as he and Luis flung back the tarps covering the mouth of the excavation.
Mateo placed a boot on the first of the dirt steps we'd terraced into a pit wall. Edges crumbled, sending dirt two meters to the floor below. The cascading particles made soft, ticking sounds as Mateo slowly climbed down.
When he reached bottom, I lowered the bucket, then zipped my windbreaker. Three days had taught me well. May was pleasant in the highlands, but underground the clammy cold knifed straight to your marrow. I'd left Chupan Ya each evening chilled through, my digits numb.
I descended as Mateo had done, placing my feet sideways, testing each makeshift tread. My pulse accelerated as the gloom closed around me.
Mateo held up a hand and I took it. Stepping off the last riser, I stood in a hole no more than six feet square. The walls and floor were slick, the air dank and rotten.
My heart thumped below my sternum. A bead of sweat raced down the furrow overlying my spine.
Always in narrow, dark places.
I turned from Mateo, pretended to clean my trowel. My hands trembled.
Closing my eyes, I fought past the claustrophobia. I thought of my daughter. Katy as a toddler. Katy at the University of Virginia. Katy at the beach. I pictured my cat, Birdie. My townhouse in Charlotte. My condo in Montreal.
I played the game. First song to pop into my mind. Neil Young. "Harvest Moon." I ran through the lyrics.
My breathing eased. My heart slowed.
I opened my eyes and checked my watch. Fifty-seven seconds. Not as good as yesterday. Better than Tuesday. Much better than Monday.
Mateo was already on his knees, scraping the damp earth. I moved to the opposite corner of the pit, and for the next twenty minutes we worked in silence, troweling, inspecting the ground, scooping dirt into buckets.
Objects emerged with increasing frequency. A shard of glass. A chunk of metal. Charred wood. Elena bagged and recorded each item.
Noise reached us from the world above. Banter. A request. The bark of a dog. Now and then I'd glance up, unconsciously reassuring my id.
Faces peered down. Men in gaucho hats, women in traditional Mayan weaves, toddlers clinging to their skirts. Babies stared with round, black eyes, secured to their mothers by rainbow textiles. I saw a hundred variations on high cheekbones, black hair, sienna skin.
On one upward glance I noticed a little girl, arms above her head, fingers curled around the restraining rope. Typical kid. Chubby cheeks, dirty feet, ponytails.
A stab of pain.
The child was the same age as one of Señora Ch'i'p's granddaughters. Her hair was bound with barrettes identical to the one we'd found in the screen.
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