Chapter 14.

From Abancay to Cusco

They awoke early and embarked for the final leg of the voyage in a good mood. Pedro had what he wanted; a separate group inside a larger group without his employers knowing about it. Secrecy of course was of the highest order for his plan to work. The last section of road to the Sacred Valley was asphalted and this made the last leg of the voyage much easier to endure. The distance of 191 kilometers was easily done and the expedition arrived in Cusco in a few hours.

It was decided there that they would stay at the Los Portales hotel simply because it was near to the train station and sufficiently far away from the main square. Since many of the bars were located there Maria wanted to make sure that the men would not get drunk. She needed them to be in good shape for tomorrow.

“Oh, I feel dizzy.” said Pierce. “I don’t know what is going on. I think that I’m going to vomit.” And with these words Pierce hurled the food that he had eaten. Maria and the others looked on in disgust and they understood what was going on.

“It’s okay, you will get use to it. This is because Cusco is at a higher elevation and so you’re suffering from altitude sickness. It will pass in a few hours…or a few days. Just live through it.” Maria said. The others had no such problems as they lived in and around the area. Luis and Jorge experienced mild headaches while Pedro and Maria had no symptoms as they were acclimatized to the higher elevation.

“Let’s go drink some mate de coca or coca leaf tea as it is a good remedy for this sickness, right Maria?” asked Pedro. Maria looked at him and decided that yes, perhaps it would be best for Pierce to ease his symptoms with that drink and hasten his recovery for tomorrow.

“Alright Pedro, take him to a bar not too far and have him drink the tea, but only the tea. No drinking beer, okay?” Maria said firmly.

“Shall we go Mr. Pierce?” asked Pedro.

“Yes, a good idea but I think that I’ll walk slowly.” said Pierce walking on wobbly legs. Maria and the others smiled at seeing Pierce walking in a hesitant manner.

“Let’s hope the gringo gets his walking legs soon, because I don’t intend to carry him on my back.” laughed Luis. Jorge nodded and grinned while Maria looked at Pierce walk away.

Maria had begun to mistrust Pedro. There was something about his manners that disturbed her. He had wanted too many details about the expedition and she thought that now was the time to have a good talk with Luis and Jorge about loyalty to the expedition. “Let’s go to the main plaza and have a look.” said Maria. They began their walk slowly, with Maria thinking about how to make sure they were loyal to her. “I did promise you both a good salary, didn’t I?”

“Yes, of course.” replied Luis and Jorge.

“I want to make sure that you understand that this expedition could yield great things, and I am determined that both of you shall profit from this, more than you can imagine.”

“How?” asked Jorge.

“ Well, if we find what we are looking for, you and Luis as well as Pedro will get much more than expected. But from you two I expect complete loyalty to me and Mr. Pierce and nothing else, is that understood?” Maria was looking directly at Jorge, knowing that as an older man with old fashion values he would understand that loyalty to your employer was paramount in an expedition. She knew that just by being a good example he might be able to influence the Luis. About Pedro she knew him to be a scoundrel with no real honor. Jorge and Luis looked at each other and smiled.

“Of course, Maria, you can count on me.” said Jorge.

“And me too.” chimed in Luis. He looked at her with avidity. She looked beautiful he thought.

Maria decided to return to the inn and take a nap, reflecting that she felt more secure now that Jorge and Luis were on her side. Jorge and Luis decided to mill around the square and talk some more.

“What are we to do.” asked Jorge in a plaintive voice. “We have Maria on one side and Pedro on the other?”

“Don’t worry, things will sort themselves out naturally. Either it will pay more for us at some point to go along with Pedro’s plans or it will be Maria and Pierce.”

“Yes, but when will know and what will be the decisive moment?” asked Jorge. It was obvious that his conscience was bothering him. It was simply complicating things for him. This playing of both sides one against the other was troubling to him but not to Luis.

“Look old man, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you and me. We could get rich really quickly. For you this could be the moment you could retire. Haven’t you work hard and long enough? Don‘t you think that now is the time to enjoy life?” Jorge pondered the question and answered decisively way.

“Yes, you’re right. I have worked long and hard and I should be rewarded.” With those words Jorge and Luis stopped walking around the plaza and aimed straight to the inn to relax.

Maria had been relaxing at the inn when Pedro and Pierce came in. Pierce was still having trouble. “I see that the mate de coca has not had a good effect on you Jake!” exclaimed Maria. Pierce was walking in an erratic way with his hand on his stomach.

“I still feel queasy, but slightly better it seems. Maybe I will lie down for now.”

“Come Pedro lets us leave Mr. Pierce.”

“Yes of course. I am sure that he will fell better shortly.” said Pedro.

They decided to go in another room of the inn. “Tomorrow we will take the railroad to Aguas Caliente. All supplies will be bought in the area so as not to arouse suspicions. For now we are simply tourists ready to explore the ruins, is that clear?” Maria said looking at Pedro.

“Yes of course. Understood. But what about the mules, when we will buy them?

“No mules. I have decided that we will be the mules,” smiled Maria. “Furthermore we will save money as well.” Pedro did not like the idea and made a frown.

“Did you see anyone follow you while you were with Mr. Pierce?” Maria asked.

“No, not at all. We were not followed and no one asked me anything. Only a curious fellow at the bar wanted to know more about the gringo, that is all.”

Maria perked up. “A curious fellow? What about it?”

“It was just a question he asked out of curiosity, nothing more. I told him that he was a tourist that I was helping get his walking legs back.”

Maria found that to be troubling. Evidently it was possible that it was an innocent question by a patron at the bar, but it could also be a guardian or a friend of them making inquiries. By that time Luis and Jorge had returned from their walk in the plaza and had been relaxing in the inn. Luis thought that it was the time to explore perhaps whether Maria might have an interest in him as he had in her. She was sunbathing when he approached her.

“I think that you might need some sunscreen now don’t you think?” he approached her with the bottle in hand but she turned on her side and looked at him coolly

“No thanks, it‘s fine as it is” she smiled faintly at him and turned once more on her back.

“You do have a lovely back,” Luis said. He let his hand caress her hair. She quickly turned once more to face him and lifted her sunglasses, surprised at his gestures.

“What do you want exactly Luis?” He approached her and quickly put his hand on her shoulder and tired to kiss her. She reacted violently by resisting and slapping him.

“What do you think that you’re doing? Let me remind you that I am your employer, understood?”

Luis was angry at her rebuff. He immediately stood up and left in a huff the inn, leaving Maria once more to enjoy the sun. She still had a frown on her face thinking about the incident. She would need to do something about this as it was unacceptable behavior on Luis’s part.

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