Rules of engagement
Dragon greeted Nick’s return home with yet another feline version of a fond welcome home by presenting the back half of a hare, which he dropped on the cold stone tiles of the kitchen floor for his human’s approval as the latest addition to the larder; but at the same time, daring him to try to take it away as he flexed his claws in anticipation. Nick’s hands bore battle scarred testament to painful encounters in the past with Dragon’s razor sharp claws, when he had tried unsuccessfully to remove the half-eaten leftovers of the semi-wild old cat’s previous hunting trips.
He ignored the challenge and collapsed on the old leather couch from sheer exhaustion. Where to go next was the question that occupied his mind as he opened a can of best bitter, trying to relax – at least for a short while. How many more of those darned capacitors would they discover? What other kinds of artefacts were involved in the construction of the system. And, how in hell was David going to communicate their whereabouts without giving the game away to the Order’s agents?
Nick almost jumped out of his skin when the phone rang. It was Sophie. She said she was on her way back to England for an International Wild Life conference at Regent’s Park Zoo and she was dying to see him again. Nick smiled lecherously to himself after their short conversation via satellite phone from deepest darkest Uganda. He hoped that their meeting would involve more than a hug and a quick peck on the cheek this time. Ithis frowned to herself over Nick’s carnal desires for Sophie. Another new and disturbing feeling began to flood her very being – jealousy. If it came to a fight for her precious Nick’s affections, then so be it.
A loud knock on the front door roused Nick from his daydreaming. Standing beneath the porch that protected the old cottage’s front door from the elements, was a rather tall, slightly stooped and immaculately dressed man with a gaunt almost cadaverous face topped by a head of overly manicured grey hair, who Nick judged to be in his mid to late forties. “Good morning Doctor Palmer, I’m sorry to bother you. My name is Malcolm Davies. I wonder if I might have a few words if you don’t mind. I won’t take up much of your time. May I come in?” he said, pushing his way past. The clipped upper class enunciation was as equally manicured in its way as was his appearance. Beside the distinctive public school tie he wore, old Etonians like Davies tended to stick out like a sore thumb among the local population in rural Gloucestershire. Davies expertly surveyed the room. His eyes missed nothing as Nick indicated he should take a seat on the old leather couch. He sat down and opened his expensive black attaché case, bearing an embossed gold leaf coat of arms.
Dragon hissed a warning. The hair along his broad back rose in thick clumps as the tip of his tail violently flicked from side to side. Nick made a mental note to thank his pal later with the large fish head he had bought and put in the fridge the day before he had left for Palenque. Dragon was an excellent judge of character, and this particular human made his feline flesh crawl.
Davies’ steel grey eyes seemed to bore their way deep into Nick’s soul, unnerving him to the point where he felt shivers run up his spine. He produced an A4 sheet of paper from the depths of the attaché case, checked its contents for a brief moment, before passing it over. “Please take your time reading it Doctor Palmer,” Davies began, with an almost predatory look on his face. “Once you have read its contents, I’m quite sure you will understand the reason for my visit here today,” he added. His face bore a look that would have scared the pants off Dracula himself as he linked his long bony fingers with their scrupulously manicured nails together like a steel barred trap, while at the same time allowing his equally bony frame to sink back into the old couch. Nick immediately recognized the logo at the top of the headed paper. It was from the archive access committee of the British Museum in London. In short, the letter clearly stated that all of the rights and privileges formerly enjoyed by him in his use of the museum’s archives had reluctantly been withdrawn. The letter went on to say that, henceforth he was no longer to be considered as an accredited user. Further, his electronic access privileges had also regretfully been revoked. The letter continued that, he could if he wished appeal the decision at a later date. But he would first have to apply in writing to the museum’s archive access committee for consideration. However, the committee deeply regretted the fact that there was no guarantee his application would be heard in the foreseeable future due to its extremely busy schedule. It was signed by none other than Professor Joseph Randle, Nick’s old tutor, in his capacity as the newly appointed chairman of the British Museum’s archive access committee. “When you have digested the letter’s contents Doctor Palmer, I wonder if you would be so kind as to sign in the appropriate place at the bottom. I have clearly marked it with a cross and I shall then witness your signature. I will of course leave you a copy for your files. Professor Randle left me in no doubt about the necessity for delivering the letter to you in person, post haste,” Davies concluded acidly, firing another withering look at Nick to emphasize the point as he offered him a solid gold fountain pen for his immediate use.
After Davies had left, Nick quickly opened up his laptop and sent a rapid email to David. Not only had his old professor managed to shut down his museum access, but he had just had an encounter with a representative of the Order. Davies’ gold fountain pen bore a beautifully enamelled shield showing a Spanish breastplate at its centre, bearing the unmistakable emblem of a pierced heart. The Order had clearly recruited Randle into its ranks. Feeding on his hatred for, and his strong desire to, destroy Nick.
Davies had fast tracked his appointment to the chair of the archive access committee of the British museum. And by using the excuse to personally deliver the written equivalent of an academic researcher’s death sentence, he had gained entry to the enemy camp to make it known that the Order had formerly declared war on Nick, Ithis and David.
Dragon let out a mixture of a purr and a growl as he began to deliberately lick the slowly melting dead grey eyes of his frozen reward from his human companion that now lay in a puddle on the kitchen floor. He purred happily to himself with his eyes half closed in pure ecstasy, while a feeling of contentment coursed through him.
Nick angrily grabbed another can of best bitter from the fridge. So, war had been declared by the Order. So be it! Ithis watched from her hiding place in the cottage’s oak beamed ceiling as he paced around the kitchen and living room deep in thought. His opened laptop beeped a warning. He had one new email. Quickly he opened the newly sent file and read the two word entry – Tabasco City. The email had been sent from an internet café with no return email address. Booking a seat back to Mexico took mere minutes via the internet as he made preparation for his next target. This time his assignment was Olmec in origin, and situated somewhere near the Mexican city of Tabasco, in the country’s south-central tropical lowlands. Precisely what the artefact may be and exactly where it was located, for the moment, he had no clue. He opened up the Wikipedia homepage on the internet and downloaded all he could find on the Olmec Pre-Columbian civilization onto his hard drive and then copied it to his memory stick, before shutting down his laptop. Next he put the computer in a hidden recess behind a removable piece of one of the blackened oak wall beams beside the old cottage’s fireplace. There was only one person in the whole of Mexico that he felt he could absolutely trust to help him trawl through the archives held there in Mexico’s most venerable university; always providing of course that Randle and the Order had not already sent advanced warning to his friend’s academic institution. He only hoped that when he arrived in Mexico City, his old university roommate Hector would still be buried up to his neck in Mayan and Olmec artefacts, somewhere in his dusty and crowded laboratory.