Chapter 32.

Pierce and Maria in Machu Pichu.

They had taken the road back to the ancient city in the hope of finding indications of what when wrong. Surely there was more to it and they were looking for clues. “Alright, here we are. Let’s go up the hill quickly but quietly.” Pierce was following closely, looking behind him just in case but no one was following them. They went directly to the Temple of the Sun and looked around. No one was in the vicinity. They went straight to the area where the two sticks with the crystals had indicated. “Here we are. Let’s look closely around the area, maybe under the carving again,” Maria said.

Pierce examined where the map had been located but found nothing out of the ordinary. “For my part I see nothing that would indicate a possible substitution with another map.”

“I agree with you. It looks quite normal to me. Nothing seemed to have been displaced around the area. I am really disappointed.” As they were going back downhill they heard cars coming and tires screeching. It was Joanna with Gwen following closely behind her. Joanna had stopped briefly at the hotel that Pierce and Maria had stayed but had not found them there. In desperation she had decided to go to the ruins. She climbed out of her car and noticed another car parked not far from she was. She was hoping that indeed it was the car of Maria. But Gwen was not far behind and that had not escaped Joanna. She had sped up and had arrived a few minutes ahead of the head guardian. She climbed the hill to the ruins as quickly as possible and tried to locate Maria and Pierce so that she could give them the map. She was going towards the Temple of the Sun when she saw them coming towards her. She waved and shouted at them excitedly. “Mr. Pierce, I have something that might interest you.” At that she opened the pouch and showed the map. Pierce and Maria exploded in joy at that sight.

“I knew it. I knew that we had been double-crossed.” Maria exulted. “I knew there was more to this than met the eye.”

“Indeed there is. But there are strings attached with this gift. You must help me for the future, in case I am prosecuted for possible involvement in crimes. Will you testify on my behalf?” Joanna was trembling. She feared for her life, and rightly so. Suddenly, as she was about to open her mouth a small trickle of blood began to flow from her left breast. She looked at her breast with surprise and put her hand on it as if she doubted that it was her own blood. And then it happened; a small hand shot out of nowhere and covered her mouth, pulling her head back. Another small hand holding a blade appeared and made a sideways motion, slitting her throat. Joanna made a small grunt, fell on her knees and slumped slowly on the ground revealing behind her a small woman with fierce features and sporting a devilish grin. Gwen grabbed the map from Joanna’s hands, stood up and looked at Pierce and Maria.

“ If I were you I would leave this city, and even this country Mr. Pierce. You are way over your head in this.” She still had the bloody knife in her hands. She coolly wiped the blade off Joanna’s vest, holding it in her left hand and looking straight at the pair of explorers.

“Who are you? And why did you kill her?” Pierce wanted answers.

“Who I am is of no concern to you. Please be aware that I just gave you a warning, and to you as well Maria. Leave this city now, for your own good. And, please, no word to the police of this. It was simply a business dealing that went bad, for her of course.” Gwen had a smirk on her face as she looked down on the body of Joanna. Pierce advanced towards her, intent on getting that map out of her hand. “I see no reason to leave this country, especially now that I know that there is a map that will lead me to the gold as surely you must know.” He continued advancing cautiously towards her while Maria stayed back, afraid of the knife in Gwen’s hand.

“Be careful Jake!” Maria said.

“If it is gold that you want, I can offer you some in exchange for your departure. How is that for a trade, Mr. Pierce. Some gold for you and you leave.” Gwen wanted to protect the secret at all cost, and if that meant giving more gold to him then so be it. The gold was irrelevant to her.

Pierce continued advancing slowly on her. “Do you seriously think that I would enter a business deal with a murderer? Do you? Give me the map, now!” At these words Pierce threw caution to the air and flew at Gwen. Unfortunately for him, Gwen took him by the wrist, threw her foot behind his and he landed on the ground. His arm was twisted and out of her left hand magically appeared the knife.

“It seems that Mr. Pierce is deaf. Perhaps I should sharpen his ears for him.” She looked at him and smiled at the expression of terror on his face. She decided that she had had enough of this little game. She left Pierce on the ground writhing in pain and quickly ran back down the hill to her car and sped off clutching the map in her hand. Maria suddenly awoke from her self-induced stupor provoked by the killing and the appearance of Gwen. She knew that Gwen was not an ordinary criminal, but Pierce did not. She rapidly went to Pierce. “Are you okay?” she asked as Pierce slowly peeled himself off the ground.

“I guess she left with the map. We must pursue her.” Pierce was despondent at the loss of it. Maria tried her best to cheer him up.

“ Look, don’t worry about the map. At least we know who has it now. We are advancing but we now must be much more careful. This woman is dangerous and do you know why? Because she seems to be one of the guardians. “

“You think that she was one of them?” Pierce was not convinced.

“I can assure you that the way she killed that woman tells me that she would stop at nothing in order to protect the map. I have had dealings with these people. They are very sensitive when you start digging in some sacred areas to them. But this time, the warning given to you was very strong and I would seriously consider it.” Maria was very serious about this. In fact, she would seriously consider dropping the expedition because of the seriousness of the threat. No gold is worth giving up your life. But Pierce was not convinced.

“Look, I have gone through numerous ups and downs for this gold which, I should remind you, belongs to my uncle who left it to be found by me. I need that map in order to get the gold. I have staked everything in my life in order to find that gold. And I have that lawyer Stevens pushing me as well. I must get that map. I need your help and as far as I am concerned our agreement is still valid and you must honour it.”

Maria and Pierce were slowly walking across the ruins, descending back towards their car when Maria, after some thought, decided to speak. “Alright, I will continue this search with you. But make no mistake, we are under surveillance and we must be careful. From now on we must be armed. Do you agree?”

Jake Pierce was not someone who was at ease with firearms but he reluctantly agreed that they had to protect themselves. Yes, they must be armed he thought. “Fine, we will carry firearms.”

As Pierce was entering the car with Maria, a police car arrived and placed themselves behind the car of Maria to block its escape. Two officers got out and aimed squarely their guns at them, barking orders in Spanish. Pierce did not need a translator to understand what was demanded of them.

“Put your hands in the air and don’t move, understood?

“But officer we are innocent!” shouted Maria.

Maria and Pierce understood what had happened. Obviously Gwen had been involved in this with a simple phone call to the local police station. They were being framed for murder.

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