|Into the Grey
Author: jedimasterathena1 PM
Deep in the heart of the Colombian Mountains lies a secret, a secret lost to the world. Until one man's discovery brings it into the light and sparks an expedition to discover what it means to be human.Rated: Fiction T - English - Suspense/Sci-Fi - Chapters: 3 - Words: 8,442 - Reviews: 2 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 02-16-13 - Published: 11-17-12 - id: 3075212
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
December 23rd, 2008
John F. Kennedy International Airport
New York, New York
The flight to Colombia out of New York, already with a two hour layover, had been delayed due to weather. Figured. The next day was Christmas Eve. Adam wondered what kind of men that made the scientists, leaving for South America two days before Christmas. Committed, he guessed.
He was about to get up and check the arrival display and see if the flight had been delayed any longer when a mass of people swarmed through the gate. He hoisted up his napkin. He'd written GABE on it, all that would fit. A blonde man appeared from around the corner, squinting into the crowd of amassed greeters who were waiting for their families to be home for the holidays. Recognition flashed across the man's face and, hiking a messenger bag further onto his shoulder, he came to Adam.
"Dr. Livehurst, I assume." He held a hand out for Adam to shake.
"Please, call me Adam."
"Oh, right." He blushed and ran a hand over his chest as if to try and straighten the wrinkles of his sweater. It was a useless attempt however, as the vest was beyond helping. Everything about Harrison's appearance looked disheveled. He was well dressed-Adam noticed the Ralph Lauren logo on his cashmere sweater- but looked like his wardrobe was just pulled from a duffel bag.
A short black man came to stand beside them.
"Hello," Adam offered him his hand. Immediately, he felt the strength of the handshake. This man, unlike Gabriel Harrison, was impeccably put together. His white Hanes T-shirt was simple and undecorated underneath a blue, white, and green Leone Stars training jacket, but Adam could make out the slight crease where it had been ironed. All but his ragged Addidas sneakers were starched, pressed, and worn with the utmost care. Even his skin was perfect, save for the scar that ran down beneath his ear and under the cotton of the T-shirt.
"Hello, I am Chukwuemeka Koroma," Adam prepared to pronounce that out loud, "but every one simply knows me as Emeka." Emeka laughed, but the smile was gone before the chuckling. He spoke with a British inflection, but his voice was distinctly African.
'Yes," said Gabe, "Emeka will act as an anthropology resource on the expedition."
Adam wanted to ask him about his work, but Gabriel interrupted his thoughts, "So, how long is our layover?"
"Four hours," answered Adam, checking his watch.
"Well," he picked up his bag again, "If I'm going to spend four hours in an airport, I'm going to need a beer." She started off in search of the closest restaurant, leaving the rest of the group to follow.
Later, the three scientists sat around a high-top table at a Bar and Grille called Links on Tap. Emeka had run to find a bathroom, leaving Adam and Gabe I each other's company.
"It's a shame we'll miss Christmas," said Gabe
"And the New Year,"
Gabe grinned. "I usually spend the holidays with my mum and dad." His lip turned up in a goofy grin. "And you? You seem like the kind of guy to settle down. Are you married?"
Adam remembered his last Christmas with Elizabeth. He had taken her to see a show at the Met. When it was over, he kneeled by the fountain and proposed. By Christmas morning, they had been engaged. Then, they had left to track down a lead in the Andes. By February, her ring was on its gold chain around his neck.
"No," he told Gabe, "I'm not married."
"You won't believe this," Emeka said when he returned from the restroom. He sat down and pointed to the television above their heads. He had gotten the barkeep to change the channel from ESPN to CNN.
"Today, in Southern Colombia, Rafael San Marco died," proclaimed the female anchor as the screen cut to a picture of an elderly Hispanic man. "He was one-hundred-and-nineteen. Villagers claimed that San Marco was always healthy and lively, living each and every day to his last. San Marco spent much of his time camping and hiking in the lower regions of the Colombian Massif Mountains. Surprisingly, when he was fifty, Rafael was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer and was not expected to live past his sixtieth birthday.
"When interviewed," continued the anchor, "San Marco's family claimed it was the 'Spirit of Andes' which kept him alive for so long."
"Well," laughed the second anchor, straightening his tie, "it seems his life was well lived. And, in other news, a storm in brewing off the coast of Taiwan…"
"Bless him!" whistled Gabe. Adam stared at the screen in silence.
The small band of researchers boarded their flight to Bogotá, Colombia a few minutes after one in the morning. They scooted down the aisle as seated passengers chatted in a cacophonous mixture of English and Spanish. Behind him, Gabe chatted on about something but he was too tired to listen. He hoisted his bag over his shoulder and continued down the small pathway into the gut of the plane. He found his seat and sat down, opening the window cover and looking over the dark runway.
"I guess we're sitting together." Emeka threw a backpack into the overhead compartment and took the seat beside him.
"I read your book," Emeka whispered as the stewardess pantomimed the operation of a seatbelt. "I'm glad it finally got the attention it deserves." He tightened his seatbelt, pressing himself into his seat. "There's not much mystery left for archaeologists anymore. The world's going to the computer programmers and the theoretical astrophysicist engineer types."
Adam beamed, thinking of the boxes from the publisher that were left over from the first printing. Still,now free from the redundancy of his Hall of Mammals spiel, he was happy to be back in the field, especially as the head researcher of this expedition.
Adam woke again as the plane touched down in He stretched his arms within the confines of his seat. Beside him, Emeka squirmed, anxious to get back on his feet. The fasten seatbelt light ticked off and the cabin began unclipping their belts.
They disembarked and strode into the crowds of the airport. They were supposed to meet their guide at the gate.
Gabe, scanned the unfamiliar faces, "Hopefully he's at the right gate. Oh!"
Harrison shouldered his back pack and began weaving his way across the promenade. When Adam and Emeka caught up to him, he was chattering away with a middle aged, amply mustached Hispanic man.
"Hola," said the guide as the others approached, "My name is Miguel San Marco. I will be driving you." He grinned.
"San Marco?" whispered Emeka in question, "Like from the CNN report."
"Ah, si," said Miguel, "my grandfather."
"Amazing," Gabe exclaimed as the group started for the exit, "the man saw two World Wars."
"Saw?" laughed Miguel, "Rafael only ever saw those mountains and Abuela's cooking, but he probably would have fared better on the battlefield."
Having all packed lightly, they bypassed baggage claim and headed straight for the door. Miguel cheerily led the group to the curb where two nearly dilapidated Jeeps waited. A gangly young man stood, leaning on the door, smoking a cigarette.
"Ay!" Miguel called to him, "Martin!" With a final drag, the boy stomped out his cigarette and straightened at Miguel's commanding tone. Their guide turned back to the scientists. "This is Martin, my son. He will drive the second car."
Adam walked to the trunk of the second Jeep, already equipped with camping gear and supplies, and chucked in his pack.
Miguel walked around the first green Jeep to the driver's door. Adam took the seat beside him and Harrison and Emeka, the back. Leaning out of the window he turned to face his son.
Adam saw Martin give a cursory wave. Miguel slapped a baseball cap on his head and, with a rumble of engines, the Jeeps came to life and pulled out of the airport.
"It's a nine hour drive to San Agustín," Miguel told Adam as they merged onto the highway, "but I guarantee, you'll love every second of it."
And he did.
In America, late December was frozen by the chill of winter. Yet, here, in this southern world, he was comfortable in shorts and a cotton shirt. He stuck his hand out of the window, feeling the wind strike his hand and glide between his fingers. In the rearview mirror, he watched as Gabe smothered his pale, freckled skin with sunscreen. Abe just leaned back against the heat rest and closed his eyes to the balmy air.
December 14th, 2012
Abe rubbed his eyes as Dr. Harrison juggled papers in reminiscent silence. He found a photograph and handed it to Abe.
"Here," he said, holding it out, "this is Miguel. The boy in the red shirt is Martin." He waited a moment before continuing. "It's getting late." He stood. "We should probably-"
A knock sounded at the door. Abe looked to Harrison.
"I don't know," said the professor. He checked his watch. "It's past eight." Before either man could stand however, the door knob jostled a bit. The tumblers shook and the door was unlocked. A blonde girl walked through the door. She had attended the reading of the will earlier and still wore the same red dress.
"Oh, um…hello," She had the same upbeat blue eyes as Emerson, however they were red and irritated from crying. She held a tissue clutched against her chest. "I'm sorry. I had a key."
"No, that's alright," Abe told her, struck by how much she looked like her father. "Would you like a seat?" he rose and offered her the desk chair, but she did not give him an answer, neither did she make an attempt to step past the threshold and into the office. Silence fell over the room.
"Rosa, isn't it?"
"Yes. Hello, Dr. Harrison…and Abraham? Abraham Hudson?"
"We've met," said Abe, "at the exhibition gala. Valley of the Kings." Abe distinctly recalled the sapphire sequin dress she had worn that night. He had meant to ask her to dance.
"That's right." Her eyes shone with recollection. "Should I go?" over the paperwork on the desk. "You two look busy."
Gabriel flashed Hudson a glare and shook his head. "No, no!" Abe quickly swept everything back into the file and clamped it under his arm. "Just, well, just research." He tried to maintain the calm in his voice.
"My father's research?" Rosa had caught sight of the open safe in the ransacked display case. Its existence was clearly new to her. She reached out and fingered the glass door. Then turned before Abe could stash the folder away. She raised her brows in surprise then lowered them in scrutiny.
"Perhaps," offered Gabriel, yanking the folder from Abe's grasp, "we should go for coffee." He stowed the folder in his satchel and put on his coat. "You like coffee, don't you, Rosa?" Nonchalantly, he walked out the door. "Abraham, would you join us?" He strode down the corridor, taking the answers with him.
While the barista was preparing their drinks, Abe leaned against the counter and looked through the glass of the café's front wall. Night had settled over Cambridge, but there was no lack of light. Streetlamps illuminated the spring night and just inside, at corner booth, beside a faux fireplace, Rosa and Dr. Harrison leaned over the table speaking in hushed tones. Between them, Adam Livehurst's diary was cradled in Gabriel's hands.
Their order came up and Abraham was handed the carton carrier with their coffee. He stayed back a moment and continued to watch Harrison and Emerson's daughter.
Rosa was excited. Her lips moved elatedly as she propped her elbows on the tabletop. She tried to reach for the journal, but before her fingers could touch the leather binding, Gabriel pulled it away, setting it in his lap. He disguised the motion with wriggling as he pretended to shift his weight in his seat. Abe caught a flash of annoyance glide over Rosa's face as he walked over to the table.
"Rosa," he said, offering her a mug.
"Oh, thank you!" She made room for him. "Abe, I can't believe you found this!"
"Yes. It was just in the bookshelf?" Bookshelf? He hadn't found it in a bookshelf. He looked to Gabriel for clarification. He only received a glare of warning. He didn't know how much Dr. Harrison had told Rosa, but he knew it wasn't the truth.
"Will you pick up the research?" asked Rosa hungrily, laying her hand on his elbow.
"No," Dr. Harrison immediately answered, "Abraham's focus is in Egyptian Archaeology. South American cultures are not his area of study."
"Oh," Rosa's voice had dropped its energy, like a child told to be quiet. "Well, did my father find anything?" her voice was low, not a whisper, but discreet enough to be directed only towards Abe.
"Your father's research," began Abe.
"Was inconclusive," finished the professor.
"Inconclusive?" she asked, her annoyance now anger. Abe felt her brush against his side as she sat back in the booth, arms crossed, expression irritated. She knew she would not be given any answers. Why was Harrison keeping secrets?
"No real conclusions came from your father's expedition. The research was abandoned."
"Megaliths like these were my father's life work! Why would he abandon this project?" Abraham wondered the same. "And why won't you let me see the journal?" Her gaze iced over. Harrison did not respond. "I understand, Dr. Harrison, that you and my father were trusted colleagues, however, Walden Emerson was my father. I remember the day he left for that expedition. For nearly two months my father tromped around some goddamn rainforest while nobody had any idea where he was. I know you're not giving me the truth." She pushed Abe out of the booth and stood. "Too many secrets were locked away. I want answers, Dr. Harrison, not lies."
"Excuse me." She snatched her coat from Abe's hands and stormed towards the door. Abe stood to follow.
"Abraham," Harrison put a hand on the younger man's shoulder. Abe shook it off.
"No." he said, "I trusted you."
"We're leaving," he grabbed Rosa's forgotten scarf from the booth. "He was her father. She deserves the truth. And so do I." He spotted the journal in the professor's hand. "Emerson left me Livehurst's journal. I'm taking it with me." He held out his hand expectantly.
Harrison realized he had no other option. "Alright," he handed over the notebook in defeat. "Please, Abraham," he sighed, "Don't skip ahead."
Abraham only nodded before putting his own coat on and slipping out into the brisk air. With a shiver he looked to his left then to his right. He spotted Rosa, her light blonde curls bouncing as she stormed down the sidewalk. He ran to catch up to her.
"Rosa!" he called her name as he grew closer. His breath clouding the air between them.
"Oh, Abraham," her body was tense, Abraham knew it was a result of the pressure from the encounter at the café rather than the chill of the night.
"You left this," before she had a chance to speak, he took the liberty of wrapping the soft wool around her collar. "I'm sorry," he said adjusting the fabric, but in fact enjoying their closeness. "You deserve better than that."
"It's not your fault," she looked up at him affectionately as they turned to walk back to the archaeology offices. "It seems I ask too much. No one knows what happened in Colombia, to my father." They walked a moment in silence. "You were close," Rosa said after a while, "you and my father."
"He was a brilliant man."
"And he always spoke very highly of you." Rosa smiled up at him and Abraham felt a warmth spread within him that seemed impossible in the cold. Abashed, he could not come up with a response and they continued down the street. Before long, they arrived back at the steps of the building that housed the archaeology offices.
"Well, Mr. Hudson, Abraham, thank you again." She began to say her goodbyes. Abe wished he could prolong the moment. Then he remembered the journal.
He held up the journal her eyes immediately fixed on the leather binding, "I didn't find this in a bookshelf. Your father gave me a key." He let her take the journal as he fished in his pockets for the key. "It was hidden, in the display case."
"So, his research…?"
"I may not know what happened to your father, at least, not yet. But, I know where to start."
"The truth this time?" she raised her eyes, anxious for answers.
Abraham nodded, "the truth."
San Agustín, Huíla, Colombia
December 24th, 2008
As the sun was beginning to retreat behind the Andes, the scientists arrived in San Agustín. Miguel parked the Jeep beside a weathered white pick-up truck.
"Everybody," he called, "unload your things. Martin will go to check on our reservations. Gather everything with him."
With their orders, the group disembarked their vehicles and set out on their tasks. Jumping out of his seat, Adam reveled in the blood that was now able to flow freely through his legs. He bent slightly backwards, cracking his joints and stretching his back. He grabbed his pack from the back of the Jeep and began walking towards the sidewalk. San Agustín was alive with the holidays. Unlike America, there were no shop windows here, no gaudy tinsel hung from the buildings while inflatable Santa Clauses bellowed to passersby. Those buildings that lined the street glowed with strings of multi-colored lights. Not just green, white and red, but aqua blue and tangy orange gleamed bright in the approaching twilight. The hearty bouquet of potatoes and roast chicken whispered through the village as household prepared the traditional ajiaco stew. It was not quite the Christmas he was used to, but much more festive. His heart instantly lightened. A Spanish Christmas carol rested just under his tongue.
The sound of a dog caught his attention. From the bed of the white truck parked beside the Jeeps, a caramel-colored, almost hound dog howled away. Adam abandoned his route to his team and approached the truck. With each step, the dog's braying stopped and his body shook harder as he wagged his tail. Dropping his pack, he raised a hand to the dog's muzzle. It pushed its wet nose against his palm and Adam scratched the animal's ears.
"His name's Simba. He's a Rhodesian Ridgeback."
"Explains the hair," He ran his palm down the upturned line of hair that ran across the dog's back. "Some cowlick. Is he yours?" He turned to see who "you" was. Bright green eyes, stared back at him electric interestedly. Her hair was put up, but bits and pieces would not be tamed.
"Do you know the breed?" She grabbed the dog's head with two hands and massaged behind his ears. His face collapsed into a drooling smile that only babies and dogs can muster.
"Not at all,"
"They were bred to hunt lions," said the stranger with a roguish smile.
Adam regarded this peculiar blonde creature and her pet. Her cheeks were ruddy with the remnants of a sunburn.
"Oh, Dr. Rander," Gabe trotted up to them. "I'm so happy you made it alright. Last I heard from you, you were still in Kenya!"
"Well," the woman pulled the latch on the truck bed and opened the hatch, "I'd gotten a last minute proposition and it's not as if I could turn down the BBC. Could I?" Simba leapt out of the truck bed and sat dutifully at his master's side.
"The BBC? Must have been quite the happening."
"It was!" she exclaimed, leaning into the truck bed and pulling out bags of equipment. "There was this beautiful, hulking female. She had just claimed hunting grounds by the river. They wanted me to tag and examine her. As it happens," she paused, "she was very, very pregnant. I had to stay on the week for the filming of the birth."
"Female?" asked Adam.
"Leopard," Dr. Rander told him, loving every syllable.
"Oh, Adam," Gabriel seemed to suddenly register Adam's presence. "Adam, if I may, this is Dr. Sarah Rander, one of the world's top big cat researchers." Adam wondered why a big cat expert was necessary for an archaeological expedition. What a shame that he, unknowingly, did more than wonder.
"I love jaguars," Sarah said, thankfully unperturbed, "When Dr. Emerson last made contact, he said he saw some kind of spotted cat. The transmission cut to static before he could finish and it could have been just an ocelot, but this area of forest has never been explored. There's a chance that a population of Jaguars exists there, a population that has never encountered mankind. Purely," she exhaled, "wild."
Adam noticed that, throughout Sarah's monologue, Gabe grew increasingly tense beside him. It got him thinking. If Sarah had been recruited for the team after Emerson's last call, how long ago had it been since anyone had heard from the Professor. Days? Weeks?
"Sarah, this is Dr. Livehurst, the man who literally wrote the book." Dr. Harrison seemed to interrupt his thoughts.
"Really?" she seemed to scrutinize him, her green eyes roaming his body. Adam became immediately aware of his three-day stubble and the shirt he had been wearing since he left his apartment in New York.
"That's right. If only I had sold more copies." Sarah chuckled and Adam felt a breath leave his lungs he hadn't known he was holding.
"Maybe if you had put in a bit more of that quipping, it wouldn't have been such a dry read." She winked at him before whistling to Simba and striding across the street. Gabe was quick on her heels. Like the dog, he followed.
"She's something. Isn't she?" a gruff voice asked from the other side of the truck. The other American man released Adam from the spell let loose by Sarah Rander.
"All she ever talks of are those damn cats. Personally, I prefer not to pet something that could maul me to death." The new arrival slipped the strap of a leather bag over his shoulder and slapped Adam on the back. "Jay Edmund." He introduced himself with a roguish friendliness and a too-firm handshake. "You must be the man who thought of this whole wild operation." Adam bristled, unsure whether to be offended or charmed.
Gabe had told him about Jay Edmund. He was a young botanist who worked in the Brazilian Amazon. Apparently, he had, with the help of a band of natives, learned of a flowering vine that had profound healing properties. He had sold the secret to a pharmaceutical company that synthesized the drug into a treatment for autoimmune diseases. The discovery had made the young scientist immensely wealthy, but he never moved back to the States. Like something out of an adventure film, he looked like he belonged in the jungle. On his head he wore a wide-brimmed hat made of some reptile's hide. The scales were dark; Adam recognized them as belonging to a black caiman and from the size of the square plates, a monster.
"There's half a dozen researchers on the expedition team, including yourself," Adam defended his study. "It must not be too irrational." He had never considered himself a tall man, but he was quick to note the brow's height he held over the botanist. He took pride in the fact.
"Or perhaps," began Edmund, "We're all cracked." Adam watched him trot after the group before reluctantly following. When he caught up, Adam couldn't help but notice the cessation of whispers between the two new team members and Harrison.
"It is Christmas Eve," said Miguel, "Many families have guests from the smaller, neighboring villages. The inns are full." Miguel did not appear stressed over their situation. "I have made arrangements for us to stay in the back room of the church."
"There isn't room,"
After the long journey, Adam was exhausted and had no qualms with sleeping on the floor. He allowed Miguel to lead them into the church, but he kept a careful eye on Gabe, Sarah, and Jay, knowing his operation was threatened by the secrets the three of them held. How did the expression go? The one about friends and enemies…
They entered the church. It was small, like the one Adam had attended as a child. The massive front door elaborately carved with wooden adornments of cherubim and angels opened directly into the sanctuary. Their shuffling was accompanied by an the swiSH swiSH of a broom on concrete floors that echoed through the empty room. A graying man in blue jeans approached them.
"Feliz Navidad, Padre," Miguel called out, his voice echoing off the walls and high ceilings of the sanctuary.
"Ah, my friend." The two spoke hurriedly in chattering Spanish. They laughed, temporarily forgetting the scientists. Finally, Miguel turned back around.
"Father Xavier has just finished sweeping the back hall. There is enough room for you to all to spread your beddings."
Father Xavier addressed the group, but underestimated the language barrier.
"He says that some of the townspeople will bring food for you later tonight, before High Mass. Other than that, you will not be disturbed."
"Feliz Navidad!" exclaimed the Padre as they moved their tired bodies in a procession after Miguel.