The NRI discovery of the Wall of Skulls had been the result of information combined with hard work. The discovery of the pit had been pure luck, a result of Hawker and Verhoven chasing the natives through the jungle. Both proved fruitful.

The Wall appeared to be a natural stone embankment with shelves carved out for the skulls and other bones that had been wedged and cemented into place. Glyphs and decorative markings populated its base and capstone.

And while it was true that the Wall matched Blackjack Martin’s description aesthetically, his calculations of its dimensions left something to be desired. At ninety feet in length and seven feet tall, the Wall was almost exactly one fifth of Martin’s boast. It made McCarter laugh. In Martin’s business, in the early twentieth century, a little exaggeration went a long way.

As he dangled over the gaping pit, suspended in a harness, McCarter wondered what Martin would have written about it. It was almost thirty feet from the ground level to the surface of the muck at the bottom, but McCarter guessed that Blackjack would have claimed a depth of at least fifty feet, or a hundred, or perhaps even called it bottomless.

Twisting on the rope and looking down, he decided it didn’t matter, thirty feet was enough.

“Lower me down,” he said, “before I change my mind.”

The porters released some of the tension on the rope and McCarter began to drop. This was his fifth trip to the bottom. In fact, he’d spent more time down there than anyone, but he had yet to get used to the voyage in or out.

As the pulley creaked and he dropped below ground level, McCarter’s attention was drawn to the stone slab that made up a large portion of the pit’s eastern wall. A great face, five feet across, dominated the slab. It had sad, round eyes from which stone tears ran, highlighted by dripping condensation. Its thin lips were closed tight and a spiked barb passed through each ear, drawing rivers of blood. Stylized torches burned on either side of the face, while beneath it, what appeared to be a massive crocodile head had been carved, complete with something bloody lying in its open jaws.

Danielle and Susan waited beneath it, looking silly in their oversized fishing waders.

McCarter touched down in the cloying muck, his feet stretching for the bottom. Never a fisherman himself, he hadn’t gotten used to the odd feeling of cold mud and water pressing against him through the thin rubber skin of the waders.

He released the harness, sloshed his way over to Danielle and Susan and pulled two printed photographs from his breast pocket, handing one to each.

“It’s a match,” he said to Susan.

The photos contained an image from the database of Mayan glyphs. The image was a representation of a name.

Danielle and Susan examined the photo, comparing the image to the glyph on the stone wall above them.

“I think you’re right,” Susan said.

“I’m not sure what I’m looking at,” Danielle said. “How about a little help?”

McCarter pointed out the matching sections. “This is Seven Macaw,” he said. “The name of an exalted being from Mayan prehistory. From a time even before Tulan Zuyua.”

“Before?” Danielle asked. “I thought Tulan Zuyua was their Garden of Eden.”

“It is,” McCarter said. “In a manner of speaking. But their version of Genesis runs differently than ours.”

She gave him a sideways glance, which he took as a request for more information.

“Let me put it this way,” he said, “in the Judeo-Christian version of Genesis, we begin with God creating the heaven and the earth. The second and third verses tell us that the earth was in darkness and then God created the light. By verse twenty-six, we’re on the sixth day and God creates man. But there was nothing before this, nothing before these six days.

“Now,” he said, “in the Mayan version, history stretches back from the creation of man as well as forward. It goes back to a time before Tulan Zuyua, before mankind even existed, to a race that preceded us, a race the Maya called the wooden people.”

Danielle’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve heard the name. How do they relate to this?”

“In the Mayan view of creation, it took the gods four tries to successfully create the human race. On the first attempt they ended up with things that squawked and stuttered but didn’t speak. Seeing some value in these things the gods kept them around, letting them become the animals of the forest and going back to the drawing board once again. The second time, they used mud as the medium and it was more or less a complete failure. The creation kept dissolving into sludge and muck. So they let it die and tried again. On their third try, they used wood to create with and they brought forth the wooden people: a sort of a prototype for mankind.”

McCarter paused to make sure she was with him. “Now, the wooden people looked something like humans,” he explained. “They were intelligent, ambitious, they could count and talk and reason, but they were odd in many ways. The Mayan manuscript Popul Vuh describes them as having no muscle in their arms or legs, no fat on their bodies. They were said to be able to speak but had stiff, masklike faces and ungainly deformed shapes—like stick people, I suppose.”

Susan chimed in. “Basically they needed a good makeover, some time in the gym and about ten thousand collagen injections.”

“Right,” McCarter said, smiling. “But even in this somewhat decrepit state, they were viable, and according to the legend they grew prosperous and even powerful.”

“And this Seven Macaw,” Danielle said, pointing to the glyph on the slab. “He was one of the wooden people?”

“Absolutely,” McCarter said. “Their leader, in a sense. He was described as having eyes and teeth that shined like jewels. He had a throne or a nest made of metal, and the power to create light in the darkness. He boasted that he could light up the whole earth. But the Mayan writings also tell us he was a fraud, and though he could create brilliant light, it didn’t reach out into the great distance of the whole world, but only lit up his immediate surroundings. Despite this, Seven Macaw exalted himself, holding himself out as a god, forcing the others to worship him as if he were both the sun and the moon.”

Danielle seemed to understand. “I’m thinking the gods didn’t like that much,” she said.

“Not good to anger the gods,” McCarter replied. “Not in any culture. The outcome is predictable.”

“The wooden people were destroyed,” she guessed.

McCarter nodded. “The gods sent vicious beasts to attack them and even turned their own animals against them. And as if that weren’t enough, the sky god, Hurricane, sent a massive rainstorm to drown them like the sinners in Noah’s day. ‘Rain through the day and rain through the night. A rain of black resin that poured from the sky,’” McCarter said, quoting the Mayan text. “‘And the Earth was blackened beneath it.’”

“Burning rain?” Danielle asked.

“I’ve heard it described as a rain of fire,” McCarter said, “like hot oil or ash or napalm. And because the earth was blackened some think it might represent a volcanic event, with hot ash and fire falling from the sky, but the Popul Vuh definitely describes it as rain.”

“And Seven Macaw died in this rain?”

“Actually, he disappeared prior to the Black Rain,” McCarter said. “But the mythology of the work seems to suggest it was necessary to get rid of him to allow the rain to fall, as if his power could challenge the gods and prevent it.”

“I see,” Danielle said. “So what happened to him?”

“Two demigods were sent for him. They shot Seven Macaw with a blow dart when he was up in a tree, and after he fell to the ground, they removed the metal from his eyes and his teeth and took all his jewelry—the things he used to light up the night. Without these items he lost the power to light up anything, even the immediate surroundings. He went into hiding and never bothered anyone again. And then, with Seven Macaw vanquished, the gods sent the rain.”

She understood. “So the heroes killed Seven Macaw and then the rain came to destroy the rest of the wooden people. Take out the leader and then finish off the troops.”

“That’s one way of putting it, yes.”

She was gleeful. “This is good news. The slab certainly proves the Mayan connection,” she said. “No computer inkblots required.”

McCarter chuckled. “It does more than that,” he insisted. “It proves that these people were intimate with the particular mythology of the Mayan creation, a fact that not only connects them with all the other Mayan tribes, but suggests they were very early in the Mayan cycle.” He raised his eyebrows. “You may just be right,” he added. “Tulan Zuyua may be down here after all.”

Danielle smiled confidently and then turned back to the slab embedded in the wall. She looked at the other symbols—the big sad face, the dashes and swirls of the glyphs around it and the angry crocodilelike head with its bloody meal. “What about that one?” she asked.

McCarter’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. It was an important discovery. “That one is Zipacna,” he said. “The Destroyer.”

Later that night, sitting beside a flickering Coleman lantern, Danielle was pressing McCarter and Susan for more details. Hawker had joined them.

McCarter began by explaining the obstacles. “One problem we face is the condition of the find.” The glyphs on the Wall are in terrible shape, for the most part unreadable. The ones found on the great stone in the pit are better off, perhaps because they’ve been buried and protected from the elements for much of their life. The exposed tree roots and steep incline of the vertical walls suggest the pit to be quite a recent excavation.”

This response concerned her. She wondered if their adversary had somehow gotten here before them. McCarter, unknowingly, assuaged that fear.

“For whatever reason, the natives seem to be using it as a trap.”

“With all the bones we had to fish out of there, you wonder if they ever came back to check it,” Hawker said.

“Apparently, we’re not the only ones that can be wasteful,” McCarter said. “But from the look of things, it seems to have been dug with fairly primitive tools. And almost without regard for the relics it uncovered. In many places we see chips and scratches from their digging that have damaged the wall. My guess is that they knew of the slab and chose to excavate there to make specific use of having one solid, steep wall.”

Hawker rubbed his sore shoulder. “The sheer face makes for a better trap,” he said, ruefully. “You don’t see the drop coming.”

“And the glyphs in the pit,” Danielle asked, bringing the conversation back on track. “You were going to tell me something good.”

McCarter got down to business, opening an aged, leather-bound folder stuffed with drawings and notes. He pointed to a group of sketches he’d made. “Remember what I told you about the wooden people and Seven Macaw—that they were a mythological race the Maya believe existed before man?”

“And how the gods destroyed them with a burning rain,” she said. “Yes, I remember all of it.”

“Remember the other glyph you pointed out?”

“Zipacna,” she said. “The Destroyer.”

“Well, much of the writing on this slab concerns the two of them. Seven Macaw, the father, and Zipacna, his son.”

Danielle was surprised. “Zipacna looked like some type of reptile to me.”

“I know,” McCarter said. “He was, sort of. But you have to remember, it’s mythology. Like the Minotaur and the Kraken in Greek mythology, much of it is mysterious and nonlinear. So even though Seven Macaw was a proto-human, so to speak, his son was this beast, this destroyer, who was usually described as resembling a hideous crocodile, though he walked and lived on the land.”

Danielle listened as McCarter spoke, unsure where this was heading.

McCarter looked over at Susan. “You recognized it before me,” he said. “Why don’t you tell the story.”

She spoke up. “The glyphs on the stone slab describe Zipacna doing the work of his father, terrorizing the peasants and anyone who might challenge Seven Macaw.”

“Everybody needs a henchman once in a while,” Hawker said.

Susan laughed. “In a lot of ways that’s what Zipacna was. In fact, the main story here depicts a group that wanted to topple Seven Macaw, deciding they must first get rid of Zipacna. Tricking him into digging a pit for them and then trying to kill him by dropping a huge log into the hole while he was down there.”

“A pit,” Hawker said. “Like ours?”

“Possibly,” McCarter said. “I believe that the stone in the pit was once on the surface. The land probably built up around it like sand blowing against the side of a house. Even now the top sticks out a bit. And in the story it is more of a narrow well.”

“So what happened to them?” Danielle asked, keeping things on track.

Susan finished the story. “After thinking they’d crushed Zipacna, the group began to celebrate by throwing a big party. While they were getting drunk in their victory celebration, Zipacna climbed out of the hole and destroyed them all by bringing their house down on them.”

McCarter smiled. “Some think it’s an ancient morality tale, a warning against the dangers of drink.”

“I can understand that,” Hawker said. “I’ve had a few houses come down on me because of the dangers of drink.”

Laughter made its way around the group, then Danielle asked another question. “So that pit may represent the one they dug for Zipacna and perhaps this wall is supposed to be the resting place of the people he killed?”

“I think you’re right about this being a monument to them,” McCarter added. “Some kind of a monument anyway. The place seems to have religious significance but was not a population center.”

Danielle considered his words. They confirmed what she’d feared. They’d found a monument, but no evidence anyone had lived there. And in their search of the surrounding area they’d found no sign of other structures.

“Someone had to build it,” she said. “Can you tell me who, or where they came from? Or are we going to have to work on your definition of ‘good news’?”

McCarter smiled. “Do not despair,” he said. “All is not lost in our quest to make a legitimate hero out of old Blackjack Martin. There are glyphs on the base of the slab that refer to another place, perhaps even a city. A place with stone buildings and great fires.”

She perked up.

He raised a cautioning hand. “Don’t get too excited. It isn’t named, just described.”

“Where? Close to us?”

“If we’re reading the glyphs correctly, it should be two days’ travel from here.”

“Which way?”

“The glyphs define the direction as that of the setting sun on a date, a date the Maya called 8 Imix, 14 Mak, ruled by the Ninth Lord of the Night.”

Hawker shook his head. “I think I have a dentist appointment that day.”

Danielle smacked him on the arm, though she couldn’t contain a brief snicker at the comment. She turned back to McCarter. “Please tell me we know what day that is on our calendar.”

“Well …” he said, “not exactly.”

She exhaled in frustration. “You’re torturing me, Professor. Just give me an answer. Can we get there or not?”

Susan laughed. “This is what he does,” she said. “We call it McCarter Syndrome. It’s like the Socratic Method, only worse. He can take three lectures to answer one question, and by that time you’ve forgotten what you asked.”

McCarter smiled and obliged. “Sorry,” he said. “Old school tradition. The thing is, we’ve been looking for dates on the ruin to place it in the time line with the other Mayan sites. We could only do that if we found one of their Long Count dates.”

The Long Count was the Mayan supercalendar, a cycle of interlocking names and numbers that gave each day a multipart name and number in a sequence that would not be repeated for over five thousand years. A date in that format could be matched to an exact Gregorian calendar date: day, month and year. It would also allow them to place the ruin exactly where it belonged in the time line and to prove beyond all doubt if the sight predated other Mayan structures.

“Only, we haven’t found any of those,” McCarter said. “But there is another glyph connected with the date glyph on the slab, and this other marking indicates a special occurrence happening on the date. It calls this date the day of the yellow sun. But they’re not using yellow to describe the color; rather, it corresponds to a direction. In the Mayan scheme, each cardinal direction has a color: red for east, black for west, white for north and yellow for south. The day of the yellow sun means the day of the southernmost sun: the Solstice; down here, it’s the longest day of the year. So whatever year it actually was, 8 Imix, 14 Mak occurred on December 21 or December 22.”

Danielle was beaming; finally she had something to grasp. “So we just need a little astronomy work to tell us where the sun would settle on that date.”

“I suppose we’ll need it for accuracy,” he said. “But as luck would have it, it’s only January and we’re so close to the Solstice that I can point us in the rough direction.” He extended his arm toward the western horizon, his palm flat and vertical like a blade. The line of sight ran down his arm and over his thumb to indicate the course. “Right about there,” he said. “Just south of where the sun went down.”

As she looked in that direction, Danielle could feel her heart racing. She had to believe they would find what they were looking for there. It made sense in every way. A large population center would be more important than an outlying relic. Items of stature would be brought there, or kept there: gold, silver, jewels and possibly crystals like the ones Blackjack Martin had found. One step closer, she thought. “We leave at first light.”

“We should do some cleanup and weather-proofing here first,” McCarter said. “It’s only right.”

“Twenty-four hours,” she granted. “No more.”

He nodded and she turned to Hawker, who seemed less enthused. In fact, he seemed disappointed. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “Aren’t you impressed?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “This is incredible. It’s just … I wanted to hear the rest of the story. What happened to Zipacna? I mean, it couldn’t end like that. Surely someone paid Zipacna back for what he did, right?”

Danielle laughed. “Revenge?”

“Justice,” Hawker said, smiling.

Susan spoke up. “Actually, someone did take care of Zipacna. The same demi-gods who destroyed Seven Macaw.”

“How?” Hawker asked.

This time McCarter replied. “They used a crab to bait him, luring him into a cave. Once he was inside they trapped him underneath it. Sealing him there for all eternity, beneath a mountain of stone.”

Black Rain