By James LaFleur & Gordon Massie


All Books by 
LaFleur & Massie: 



Caesar Guevara sat shirtless in his squalid East Los Angeles kitchenette, smoking a GT One and sipping the remains of his breakfast—warm King Cobra malt liquor. It was quarter past nine, and the relentless humidity of L.A. in June was already closing in.

Caesar wiped the sweat from his brow and wondered if the last twenty years of his life had been based on lies. He’d entertained the same thought every day for the last three years, sitting in the same armchair and staring at the mortar in the brick wall behind the stove as it gradually crumbled. Watching bits of mortar turn to dust had become inextricably linked to his own history.

Caesar received an $800 disability check every month, compensation for a leg crushed at an excavation site in Peru three years before. He also saw a few bucks from sales of his three-volume opus on Mayan civilization and the code-breaking technique he’d created to decipher the hieroglyphs on Mayan temple walls. The books never sold well but had attained minor cult status—certain college students regarded them as sci-fi gems rather than fact-based material. Caesar didn’t care. Royalty money could buy a six-pack of King Cobra just as well as disability money could.

Caesar was distracted from his thoughts by a sudden chorus of car horns. He stared out the top of the only window in the apartment, which held a busted air conditioner, but all he could see through the filthy cracked glass was the rim of a rooftop across the way and the steam rising from it.

Caesar looked away from the window and tried to forget the world outside. He liked to keep things simple. All he needed were cigarettes, a 40-ounce now and again, a daily sandwich, and some TV to pass the time. That had been his routine for nearly three years. He closed his eyes and luxuriated in his armchair, ignoring the springs that had popped through the worn fabric of the seat cushion. That armchair had become a fixture in his life, and he welcomed its familiar embrace.

He finished the malt liquor, set the bottle on the floor without opening his eyes, and allowed himself a few moments to envision the face of his daughter. He couldn’t bear to dwell on her for more than a few seconds. His life had not been the same since her death and the inevitable divorce that had followed. Death, divorce, destruction—they’d sent him fleeing back to East L.A., to a neighborhood he once thought he’d never see again.

The faint sounds of a news report on the old Zenith TV brought him back to reality. He opened his eyes to stare at a fuzzy black-and-white image, an aerial shot of a seismic zone in South America. The reporter was going on about the Nazca and South American plates of the Circum-Pacific Belt and how they had caused the recent earthquakes in Chile and Peru. Caesar let his eyes drift closed again, barely listening. He heard the words “lost Inca temple,” and his eyes snapped open. On the TV screen was a shot of the place in which he’d spent two-and-a-half years, searching for something he believed lay beneath the dense forest that surrounded the headwaters of the Amazon basin. When the view from the news chopper showed the eastern slopes of the Andes, and the camera panned left to take in a massive structure situated only yards from his previous excavation site, he knew he had been right.

Caesar got up from the armchair and turned up the volume. The female reporter was shouting to be heard above the noise of the helicopter.

“What’s truly unusual here,” she was saying, “is the remarkable condition of the structure. If you look closely”—the camera zoomed in on the temple—“you’ll see that the temple is unlike any other existing Inca structure, if it is Incan at all. It isn’t crumbling from age. Nor is it made of earth-colored stone. Most of the structure is still buried below ground, and the Peruvian government, after flying in heavy equipment, has managed to unearth what you see here. From the looks of it, to my untrained eye, the structure is pure obsidian. And with the sun glinting off its polished surface, it looks brand new.”

“Could it be?” Caesar murmured. But it didn’t matter to him now. That part of his life was over, and the man he had once been was no more. Screw them all, Caesar thought. They should have listened to me. If the artifact is there, let them discover it and suffer the consequences. I wash my hands of it! He turned off the television.

He sat in the armchair and picked up his cigarette from the ashtray on the floor. He took a few long drags as he stared at the blank Zenith. For a moment he felt as if he were dreaming. The telephone rang and brought him back to reality.

No one ever called him. No one even had his number. He kept a live telephone line for only one reason: so he could give in to the urge to call his ex-wife in the small hours of the night simply to hear her voice. Had she found him out?

He snatched the receiver from the wall and spoke into it, disguising his voice.

“Caesar, my boy,” said a familiar Southern voice on the other end. “How are ya?”

Caesar was stunned but quickly recovered his wits. He knew why Lionel Galton was calling. He had seen the news about the South American temple discovery.

“Mr. Galton.”

“I’ve told you a thousand times, son, it’s Lionel to you. Lionel! Let me hear you say it.”

“Lionel. I haven’t heard from you in three years, not since I was banned from Peru.”

“Forget all that,” Galton said, with a raspy laugh. “You always were a pistol, Caesar. I bet you didn’t want to hear from me for another fifty years, if ever.”

“That’s not true.”

“You always were a terrible liar, son,” Galton said. “I would feel the same if I were in your shoes. Not that I’d wish that on myself, mind you. But despite us not always seeing eye to eye in the past, I figure things have probably calmed down on your side, and maybe we could pick up the pieces, as they say. Thing is, I have a little proposal for you, Caesar.”

Caesar decided to drop the polite act. “Not interested. I don’t know what you’re cooking up this time, but I’ve gotta go, Lionel. I don’t even know how you got this number.”

“You’re not a hard man to find, Caesar.”

“Whatever. Look, no hard feelings, okay?”

“Caesar,” Galton said, breathing a hard sigh into the phone. “While I’m not a man who usually explains himself to anyone, you force me to go against the grain of my own pride. Remember that I was the one who was there for you when all that nasty business went down in Peru. I even tried to talk Annie into sticking it out with you. I’m not your enemy, son. More to the point, Gracie’s death wasn’t your fault. She …”

Caesar screamed into the phone. “Don’t say her name! Don’t you dare say her name!”

“All right, all right. Let’s calm down. I didn’t mean to stir up old feelings. I love you like a son, Caesar. You must know that.”

“I have to go.”

“Listen up,” Galton said in a stern voice. “There’s a plane heading out of LAX to Peru in a few hours, and I want you on it.”

“I’m not going.” Caesar gently placed the receiver back on the hook. The phone rang again, but he didn’t answer.

A minute later, a knock came at the door, followed by a heavier knock when Caesar didn’t answer. Caesar walked to the closet next to the kitchen counter and pulled out an old aluminum baseball bat. He once kept an antique 22-caliber revolver between the mattresses, but that had been stolen six months ago when someone broke into the apartment while he was out. Nothing else was worth stealing.

“Who is it?” Caesar cried out. “I have a gun!”

“Open the door, boy, and be quick about it,” said the familiar Southern voice on the other side of the door.