He looked at the luminous dial of his watch. It was after midnight, for Christ’s sake. Various scenarios played in his head. The looters from the previous day had returned with better arms, and they were attacking the camp. Or maybe the Quechan laborers themselves, a swarthy and suspicious lot, had mutinied. Or maybe one of the three generators had just exploded.
Philip clutched the collar of his robe tight to his neck. Where were his fellow students? Finally, fear and irritation drove him barefooted from the flap. He took a quick peek around the edge of his tent. Farther back, the three other shelters were dark humps huddled against the night. Why hadn’t the others been roused? Were they hiding in the dark?
Stepping back to his own tent, Philip’s eyes grew wide. Maybe he should do the same. His own lamplit shelter was surely an illuminated target for any aggressor. He darted inside and blew out the lamp. As he turned back to the tent’s entrance, a huge black shadow filled the doorway. Philip gasped.
A flashlight blinded him.
“What do you want?” he moaned, his knees weak.
The light shifted to illuminate the face of one of the Quechan workers. Philip could not say which of the many laborers stood at his tent flap. They all looked the same to him. The man garbled some words of Quecha, but Philip understood none of it. Only the wave of the man’s hand, indicating Philip should follow, was clear.
Still, Philip hesitated. Did the man here mean him harm or was he trying to help? If only Denal, the filthy urchin from Cuzco who had acted as their translator, were there. Unable to communicate, Philip felt defenseless, isolated, and trapped among these foreigners.
Again the shadowy figure waved for Philip to follow, then stepped back and turned to leave. Philip found himself skittering after the man into the darkness. He did not want to be alone any longer. Barefooted still, he hurried to keep up.
Outside the shelter of his tent, the night wind had grown a crisp edge to it. It sliced through Philip’s robe to his bare skin. The man led him to the other students’ tents. Once there, he threw back the flap to Sam’s tent and flashed the light inside for Philip to see. Empty!
Philip backed up a step and surveyed the ruins. If the bastard was out there, why hadn’t Conklin answered his calls? His Quechan guide showed him the other tents. They were empty, too. Sam, Maggie, Ralph, even the photographer Norman, had disappeared. Panic, more than the cold breezes from the mountaintops, set Philip’s limbs to shaking. Where were they?
The worker turned to him. His eyes were dark shadows. He mumbled something in his native tongue. From his tone, the Indian was just as concerned.
Edging farther away, Philip waved an arm behind him. “We… we need to call for help,” he mumbled from behind chattering teeth. “We need to let someone know what’s going on.”
Philip turned and hurried toward the communication tent. The Quechan worker followed with the flashlight. Philip’s shadow jittered across the path ahead of him. He needed to alert the authorities. Whatever was happening, Philip could not handle it himself.
At the tent, Philip worked the zipper and snaps with fumbling fingers. Finally the flap was open, and he crawled within. The worker remained at the entrance, pointing the flashlight inside. In the beam of light, Philip stared wide-eyed at their communication equipment. A pickax was embedded in the heart of the central computer.
Philip slid to his knees with a moan. “Oh, God… no.”
Sam held the Winchester pointed toward the dark corridor that led to the heart of the ruins. A furtive scuffing and shuffling moved toward them through the darkness.
Beside him, Ralph held Sam’s ultraviolet lamp out toward the darkness. Its illumination did little to pierce the well of shadows. What lay within the blackness remained a mystery.
Maggie and Norman stood behind the two men. Leaning forward, Maggie whispered in Sam’s ear, her breath hot on his neck. “Gil was running from something. Something that scared the hell out of him.”
Sam’s arms trembled with her words, his grip on the rifle slipping. “I don’t need to hear this right now,” he hissed back at her, steadying his hand.
Ralph had heard her words, too. The ex–football player swallowed audibly and raised the lamp higher, as if that would spread the glow farther. It didn’t.
Sam tired of this game of silences. He cleared his throat, and called out, “Who’s there!”
His answer was instant and blinding. Light flared up from the dark corridor, so bright it stung the eye. The group tumbled backward. Sam’s finger twitched on the rifle’s trigger, but only instinct drilled into him from hunting trips with his uncle kept him from firing off a round: you never shoot what you can’t see.
Sam kept his rifle pointed, but he eased back on the trigger.
A squeaky voice, timid and frosted with terror, echoed up from behind the blinding light. “It’s me!” The light suddenly tilted away from their gathered faces to play across the ceiling. A small figure stepped forward.
Sam lowered his weapon, silently thanking his uncle for his training in restraint. “Denal?” It was the young Indian lad who acted as their translator. The boy’s face was ashen, his eyes glowing with fear. Sam shouldered his rifle. “What the hell are you doing down here?”
The boy hurried forward, keeping the flashlight he bore pointed down now. Words in fractured English rushed from him. “I… I see Gil sneakin’ down here with Juan and Miguel. With bags of stuff. So I follow ‘em.”
Maggie pushed beside the trembling boy and put an arm around him. “What happened?”
Denal used his free hand to slip a cigarette to his lips. He did not light it, but its familiar presence seemed to calm him. He spoke around the cigarette. “I no know… not sure. After they broke the sealed door—”
“What!” Sam gasped out. Even in their dire situation, such a betrayal shocked him.
Denal merely nodded. “I no see much. I stay out of sight. They crawl through door… and… and…” Denal glanced up to Sam, his eyes frightened. “Then I hear screaming. I run. Hide.”
Maggie spoke, “Goddamn. The feckin’ bastard was going to loot the place right out from under our noses.”
“But obviously something went wrong,” Norman added tensely, glancing back at the wall of rubble behind them. He turned back around. “What about the other two? Juan and Miguel?”
“I no know.” Denal seemed to see the blockage for the first time. He crossed to the cascade of boulders and clay. “Guillermo run out… I wait. I scared others might catch me. But no one come out. Then big boom. Stones fall… I run.” Denal raised a hand toward the tumbled section of the temple. “I should no come down alone. I should tell you instead. I so stupid.”
Sam took the Wood’s lamp from Ralph and turned off its ultraviolet glow. “Stupid? You at least thought to bring a flashlight.”
Maggie moved closer to Sam. “What are we going to do?”
“We’ll just have to wait for Philip to realize we’re down here.”
Norman scowled at Sam’s side. “We’ll be waiting a long time.”
Denal crossed back to them. “Why no call him on walkie-talkie?”
Sam frowned. “Like the flashlight, that’s another thing none of us thought to bring.”
Denal reached to a back pocket and pulled free a small handheld unit. “Here.”
Sam stared at the walkie-talkie. A smile grew on his face. “Denal, don’t ever call yourself stupid again.” He took the pocket radio. “If you’re stupid, what does that make all of us?”
Denal stared gloomily back at the rubble. “Trapped.”
Philip still knelt in the communication tent when the camp’s radio erupted with static. The loud noise drew a gasp from the startled student. Garbled words flowed between screeches of static: “… stones collapsed… someone pick up the line…”
It was English! Someone he could talk to! Philip scrambled for the receiver. He stabbed at the transmission button and spoke into the receiver. “Base camp here. Is anyone out there? We have an emergency! Over!”
Philip waited for a response. Hopefully whoever was there would be able to send help. Static was his only answer for a few strained heartbeats; then words formed again. “Philip?… It’s Sam.”
Sam? Philip’s heart sank. He raised the receiver. “Where are you? Over.”
“We’re trapped down in the temple ruins. Gil blew the entrance.” Sam explained about the security chief’s betrayal. “The whole structure is unstable now.”
Philip silently thanked whatever angel had been watching over him and kept him from being buried down there with the others.
“You’ll need to send an S.O.S. to Machu Picchu,” Sam finished. “We’ll need heavy equipment.”
Eyeing the pickax in the damaged CPU, Philip groaned softly. He clicked the transmit button. “I have no way of reaching anyone, Sam. Someone took out the satellite system. We’re cut off.”
There was a long pause as Philip waited for a response. He imagined the string of expletives flowing from the Texan’s lips. When Sam next spoke, his voice was angered. “Okay, Philip, then at first light send someone out on foot. Someone fast! In the meantime, you’ll need to survey the damage on the surface when the sun’s up. If you and the workers could begin a cautious excavation—at least get started—then when help arrives you can move quickly. I don’t know how long the air will hold out down here.”
Philip nodded, even though Sam could not see. His mind dwelt on other concerns—like his own safety. “But what about Gil?” he asked.
“What about him?” Sam’s voice had a trace of irritation.
“He’s surely long gone.”
“But what if he comes back?”
Again a long pause. “You’re right. If he blew the place and sabotaged the communications, he must be planning to return. You’d better post guards, too.”