Authors: J. F. Freedman
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2003 by Chesapeake Films, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cover design by Andrew Newman
Cover art by Kenneth Garrett/National Geographic
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Visit our Web site at
First eBook Edition: September 2004
The “Warner Books” name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
HIGH PRAISE FOR J. F. FREEDMAN AND HIS EXCITING THRILLERS!
“Freedman creates an intriguing plot that unravels the layers, piece by piece. Rich with clear descriptions of archeological digs and jungle wildlife. Once hooked, you will not be able to put this book down.”
“Suspenseful … an interesting closing twist. The story line shines … an entertaining thriller.”
“Compelling … the pacing is quick, and the resolution satisfying. This is as much a mystery as it is a psychological study of a family. Readers will find themselves compulsively turning pages to get to the bottom of things.”
“A winding suspense filled with an interesting plot of seduction, secrets, lies, and deception that will keep the reader guessing until the end.”
MORE PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF J. F. FREEDMAN
“Gritty, vivid … sexually provocative, superior suspense.”
—New York Times Book Review on Against the Wind
“A high-octane blast … a rip-snorting, full-throttle … compulsively readable tale of crime and punishment. It kept me up late into the night.”
—Stephen King on
Against the Wind
“Character-driven suspense … steadily gripping.”
—Kirkus Reviews on Bird's-Eye View
“A legal thriller of near-epic proportions.”
—Library Journal on Above the Law
“Powerful stuff … a bruising, triumphant trip.”
The Obstacle Course
“So good it makes the heart leap.”
House of Smoke
“Completely engrossing … you won't want to put this book down for a second.”
LSO BY J.F. FREEDMAN
Above the Law
House of Smoke
The Obstacle Course
Against the Wind
For Matthew Penfield Freedman
You may my glories and my state depose,
But not my griefs; still am I king of those.
itting up in the darkness, Walt Gaines, his naked body sheeny with sweat, pushed aside the mosquito netting that canopied his cot and pulled on a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and his mud-encrusted Tevas. For a man pushing sixty, Walt, who had played varsity football and lacrosse at Middlebury back in his undergraduate days, looked tough and hardy, and he was: at six-one, two hundred pounds, he still had most of his hair, it was still mostly light brown, rather than gray, and his face, despite the lines etched across it from years of toiling in the sun, was surprisingly youthful. People who didn't know his age, upon meeting him for the first time, often took him to be five or six years younger.
In the cot next to his, Jocelyn, his wife, stirred but didn't awaken. As she breathed, steadily and slowly, her thin nostrils fluted out the faintest nasal snore, a delicate, almost musical rasp, like the buzzing of a far-off bumblebee. A woman whose mind and spirit were perpetually in harmony (unlike her husband, who was ever-restless, a man who, by comparison, would make Odysseus look like a layabout), Jocelyn could sleep through storms, hurricanes, even, her husband firmly believed, the wrath of God.
Thirty years of togetherness behind them, and Walt was still amazed by his life-mate's equanimity. It was a wonderful counterbalance to his own headstrong energy. One of the many reasons they had been a good team. Marriages don't last as long as theirs had without the important gears meshing. As Walt watched her he thought back on their thirty years of togetherness. Thirty years! Jesus. Thirty years ago, the Beatles had barely broken up. Thirty years was forever, and at the same time it was yesterday, which in some ways, it was: they still made love like they had when they'd first met, passionately and a lot. Walt was grateful to the gods of sex that he continued to be turned on by his wife; he knew too many men his age who weren't, and what that led to. Okay, so Jocelyn was wider in the hips and ass than when she was a girl, but you had to expect that, Jane Fonda's ass was bigger when she turned fifty, too. Jocelyn's body was damn good for a fifty-year-old woman who'd had three children. She was another reason—the most important one, he knew—that he'd stayed young, especially in spirit.
Their coming together had been a volcanic eruption. Walt was thirty, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, when he met Jocelyn. She was twenty, a junior at the university, a student in his
Introduction to Pre-Columbian Civilization
course. They had been white-hot for each other from the first day of that long-ago spring semester when she'd entered his classroom, sat down in the front row, and, braless, leaned forward to get her notebook out of her pack. He had looked away, then back, and she was staring at him.
That afternoon they had coffee, that night they made love. It was great, and in the morning it was even better. A week later, she moved in with him.
Partway through Jocelyn's senior year, she got pregnant. She took it more calmly than he did. To his surprise, she didn't want an abortion. More surprisingly, she didn't want to have the child outside of marriage. That was a relief to him—getting involved with a student was bad enough, knocking her up was even worse, but to have a love child? He wasn't sure if the administration would be liberal enough to let that go, even though he was one of their golden boys, a rising star.
They got married over the spring holidays—she received her diploma showing a belly as big as a watermelon. That summer, their first son, Clancy, was born. Having a child completed Jocelyn's maturation process. She quit smoking marijuana—gave up drugs altogether—and became a card-carrying grown-up. Two years later, they had another boy, who they named Tom, and a year and a half after that, Will, their third and last child, was born.
Walt loved his sons, but he would have liked a daughter. Jocelyn, though, was happy with boys. No hidden agendas, no subterfuge. She knew all about girls’ perfidies—hadn't she snagged Walt, the glamorous professor who all the undergraduate girls had drooled over?
After Clancy was born Jocelyn went back to school, got her master's, and then, after having her other boys, finished her Ph.D., in sociology. The school offered an instructorship and then an assistant professorship. She didn't shine in her field like Walt did in his—few do—but she was good, she was solid. And everyone who knew her loved her; she was a genuine sweetheart.
The professors Gaines had a good marriage. It had lasted.
Stepping outside their small dwelling, Walt inhaled the night's sweet, almost cloying perfumes and looked around at the familiar surroundings, a group of small, thatch-roofed huts that were clustered in the clearing. Besides those used for sleeping—volunteer diggers were generally bunked four to a hut, although five or six could be squeezed in if there were more workers than space— there was a communications center/kitchen, an open dining pavilion, and two large buildings for storage. Solar-heated showers were located outside, back behind the main building. It was a rudimentary, simple system, but it worked.
The complex had been built over the past three years, from scratch. The small area where the buildings were situated had been hacked out of the jungle by a native crew of
—men who roam the dense forest looking for rubber trees. One of them had discovered this site by accident, which is often how important ruins in Central America are found: he was looking for rubber trees in a remote, unexplored section of the jungle, and had stumbled upon it by accident. The site had been named La Chimenea because the tallest pyramid was shaped like a chimney.
The tight little living structures were similar to the dwellings in which the Maya had lived, on this very spot, over fifteen hundred years ago. The walls were made of thin tree trunks—trumpet trees mostly—held together with strangler vines (and baling wire), and the high-pitched roofs—tight, dense, virtually waterproof—were constructed from bay leaf palms, woven together in a tight mosaic. The few modern conveniences were rough-poured concrete floors, screened windows, and the propane and diesel tanks that powered their electric needs, their computers and other communication devices, and for kitchen essentials like ice. The student-volunteers who stayed and worked here pissed in the jungle and crapped in holes in the ground. They loved it.
Walt had been taking tours to archaeological sites throughout Central and South America for more than two decades. During semester breaks he had led field trips that typically ran for two or three weeks. These groups were comprised of about twenty people, mostly students, but also older people who were interested in archaeology and wanted an experience off the beaten track. The tours hopscotched from ruin to ruin: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras. Two or three days at a location, then moving on to the next one. It was grueling, all that bouncing around on terrible roads in hundred-degree heat, but they covered a lot of ground.
Jocelyn had often accompanied him, especially after their sons had reached adulthood and no longer needed her attention and supervision. These field trips had been important in helping him and Jocelyn supplement their incomes. Being university professors, they were comfortably middle-class, but they liked to live nicely. The income they'd put away from these trips helped augment their modest portfolio of conservative mutual funds.
Once La Chimenea had been discovered, however, and Walt had been given the responsibility of developing it, he stopped conducting these short tours. All his time and energy became concentrated on the site. Being invited to participate alongside him was rigorous and competitive—hundreds of applications flooded Walt's office every term. From these he carefully selected a privileged handful: prime graduate students from universities all over the country, mixed in with a few of his own over-achieving underclassmen.
There was one big difference between these groups and the shorter trips he had led in the past. Nondegree applicants were rarely accepted. There were too many candidates who were deserving and needful of studying in the field under the guidance of the renowned Walt Gaines.
They had been on-site for almost three months this time around. After flying to La Chimenea and settling in, they had immediately begun working their butts off. It was hard, meticulous, back-stiffening labor, like spending eight hours a day taking a splinter out of a baby's foot—you had to be so delicate. A meter-square quadrant at a time, carefully lifting the dirt, sifting it, brushing it one fragment of a pot shard after another.