It is true that after they have been reassured and have lost this fear, they are so artless and so free with all they possess, that no one would believe it without having seen it. Of anything they have, if you ask them for it, they never say no; rather they invite the person to share it, and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts.

Cristobal Colon 1451-1506

(Christopher Columbus) Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, the sovereigns of Spain, on the first voyage – 1493 Describing indigenous American population

Willie was standing in front of the desk. “It is six o’clock, Senor. You told me to come back at six.” Robert gathered his thoughts quickly. “Yes, thank you. I’d like to get something to eat. Let’s go back to the hotel”

At dinner in the hotel dining room, Robert kept thinking about his day’s reading. Columbus had recorded in the log from his fourth voyage, coming across a large canoe that seemed to be on some sort of trading expedition, but to read of that encounter through the eyes of one of the Indians aboard the canoe, this was incredible. If he hadn’t done the translation himself, he wouldn’t have believed it, and the rest of the account. Robert now knew he was working on the most important project of his life.

“Robert? Robert Clairbourne? It is you, isn’t it?”

Startled out of his thoughts, he looked up to see a dark woman with black hair, green eyes and a mocking grin. Diana Hunter had been his classmate when he was a “cell commander” in the S.D.S., the Students for a Democratic Society. She had organized the Native American students as part of A.I.M., the American Indian Movement, founded by Russell Means, that later held the controversial demonstration at Wounded Knee. They had also been lovers.

“Diana, how are you? What are you doing in Peru? God, you’re still as beautiful as you were in Berkeley, no, more so. Sit down, please, and tell me.” He stood up to help with her chair but she had already sat down. She never did care much for pleasantries.

She got right to the point. “Robert, you’re here to work on the Mayan codices, aren’t you? No, don’t say anything, I already know. They’re mine, Robert. I want them back and I’m not going to let Torres or any of his cronies stop me.” Her accusing stare slowly changed back to her usual smile, which sent a shiver down his spine, when she looked deep into his eyes and said, “I don’t mean to be so blunt. I just didn’t expect to see you here, in the middle of all this. I’m sorry. Forgive me?”

“Diana, there’s nothing to forgive, but what the hell is going on? You say the books are yours? How’s that? And who is this Torres you’re talking about? I’m working for Doctor Ortero, at the University, on behalf of the Institute.”

“You don’t know General Torres?”

“Now he’s General Torres?”

“I see. Still got your head stuck so deep in old books you don’t know what time it is, do you? You dear. Always were a bit of an innocent, weren’t you? I guess that’s one of the reasons I... Look, I’ve been working for a private collector on a dig up in the mountains. I found more than anybody had bargained for. A cave room. In it were the books among other things. I didn’t know exactly what was in them, but I knew enough to know they were Mayan, and that Peru is not where Mayan books usually turn up. They had to be important, and worth a pretty penny.”

“You’re a scavenger? A smuggler?”

“Come on, Robert, wake up. I’m a free-lance archaeologist, and I’ve made more of a contribution to our understanding of Pre-Columbian society than you and your entire Institute. I’ve discovered more new digs in one year than you’ve worked on in your life, and most of the finds wind up in major museums. So, what if I happen to get paid better than you?”

“Diana, you know there’s more to it than that. Your kind loots graves. You don’t use scientific methods. Half of the evidence is destroyed in the process. The works are smuggled clandestinely out of the source country, onto an auction block somewhere in England or the U.S. Sure, it’s easy to rob some third-world nation of it’s heritage. It takes a lot more energy to do things right.

“What’s happened to you? The Diana I knew would never be having this conversation with me. You were my inspiration. I followed your lead. We believed that poor nations needed help from progressive people in the technologically advanced countries, in order to survive the onslaught of so-called progress. To keep them from being the battle ground the powers use to test their new weapons.”

“It’s not nineteen sixty-eight, Robert. Or haven’t you noticed? Things have changed. Priorities are diff...”

“Priorities?! Shit!! Do your beliefs change with the seasons? Don’t you understand anything? Maybe it was just a fashion for you, like love beads and bell-bottoms. Well, I didn’t forget the difference between right and wrong when I cut my hair. The war in Vietnam might have ended, but injustice, poverty, violence... They haven’t ended. They won’t either. Not as long as people find it convenient to ignore them.”

“Right on! All power to the people! Free the Chicago seven! Great speech, Robert. Thank you for reminding me that the world sucks, I’d almost forgotten. Well, enough of this small talk. I have to run, but before I go, let me say this, for old time sake. Go home, Robert. Pack up your high ideals and take them back to the cocktail parties where they might do some good. This is the real world, where people disappear in the middle of the night, just for thinking the kind of things you just said. Life is cheap here, Robert, and you’re smack in the middle of something you don’t understand. You’re a nice guy. I’d hate to see you get hurt. Go home.”

“Don’t patronize me. I know exactly where I am, and I don’t need your cynical advice. I came down here to do a job. A very important one, and I’ve no intention of letting your threats change my plans.”

Diana looked at him intently and then smiled again. “I wasn’t threatening you, Roby, and I didn’t mean to be patronizing. It’s just that these people are playing for keeps. General Torres is just using you, and you could be hurt. I really do have to go now. Please, think about it. Good night.”

Robert was no longer hungry, so he signed for the bill and went upstairs. As he tried to fall asleep, his thoughts weren’t on Diana or the mysterious General Torres, he thought only of the codex.

F I R S T - P R E V I O U S - N E X T

Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

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