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I nodded. As they left the patio, I felt a ground swell of panic welling up inside. It was December sixth. Tomorrow morning shortly after dawn, Operation Thunderbolt would jell with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. How to stop it? A woman alone and weakened from shock and fatigue, surrounded by war demons ready to set the world on fire. I never understood man's lust for war.
After dressing in a traditional Yucatan full length flowered dress, I strolled the house, its ceiling fans moving the stagnant air. The living room resembled a museum, statues of Viking warriors, bearded and shielded, bearing war axes; wood carvings of Viking ships at anchor with lowered sails and masts; on the wall, paintings of Viking explorers, Bjarni Herjulfsson and Thowald Ericsson, Leif's brother. Nothing Mayan.
Back outside, I lounged by the swimming pool, waited on by obedient servants. This was too good to be true. Kessler had hated me and now I was royalty, basking at the fount of luxury.
The jungle hovered just a few feet from the edge of the flagstone, its rank stench of decayed matter invading my nostrils. Escape was futile. Not far away were snakes, ticks, stinging ants, and niguas, insects that eat into the flesh under toenails.
The harmless looking Escoba tree contained surgically sharp thorns. In the trees, the Hilguero's distinct full avian scale contrasted with a Toucan's scolding. Nature's workshop.
I marveled at a giant sacred Ceiba tree on the edge of the patio. The Indians believed its roots were hell, the trunk life, and the branches heaven.
I slept the morning away in a lounge chair in the shade of an awning. The men returned for lunch of bean tortillas, fresh vegetables and one glass of wine.
"Lex," Dee said, "tag along. I think you'll enjoy this." He didn't seem excited like he should have been. Something was wrong. This whole scenario of being treated so well by Kessler put me on edge.
We hiked down the road of crushed limestone to the edge of the Quonset huts where the men were billeted. A make-shift platform had been constructed. At least a hundred men milled around waiting. They were the flight crews, young men eager to please their Fuhrer, ready to sacrifice their lives for the fatherland. Dee and I stood in the front as Kessler ascended the heights.
He stepped to the edge of the platform like a banty rooster, arrogant and grandiose. I wondered why Dee was content to let Kessler have the spotlight, but Dee was never one to boast or swagger.
"Men of the Luftwaffe. You are the riders of Odin's sky, the furious army of the savage hunt. You will be led by Woden, master of the wode, the fury which is the sign of the unchaining of all the brute forces of the world."
Like Hitler, he stomped his left foot, right fist punching the air, his stern voice rising in volume, full of emotion.
"It will not take much to defeat the Americans. They are a degenerate mix of races which breed incompetence. Look at their Civil War. Democracy creates corrupt morals. They have no discipline. The decline of America began with the loss of race purity, the bastardization of society. We, the Aryan race, are the culture creators."
Kessler stooped, picked up a sword from the floor, and waved it in the air above his head. "Like Siegfreid who possessed the divine sword, I command you ... strike at dawn! The Luftwaffe is invincible!"
The men raised their arms and yelled. "Seig Heil! Heil Hitler!"
That evening, dinner continued my enchantment: candlelight, a formal setting with linen: champagne; exquisite Indian dishes of papdzules; pocchue; mucbi-pollus, maize dough wrapped in banana leaves; tamal; lime soup; topped off with a t-bone steak and salad. For dessert, coffee and chocolate. A voice inside me whispered, beware.
Dee excused himself and headed back to the base. Again, he didn't act like the warrior he claimed to be, not the famous Black Wolf of yesteryear. I assumed his attitude originated from the fact he wasn't part of the attack team. Generals stayed behind and lived. Thank God for that.
An hour later, I lounged on the front porch watching the sunset in a glorious burst of fuchsia behind approaching storm clouds. Twilight and the verdant forest inched closer. Fruit bats soared, Cucuyos, large luminous fireflies, lit up the night. Soon squadrons of mosquitoes would attack in sorties through the humid airless dark.
In the distance, the sound of flutes, conch shell trumpets and rattles punctured the evening air. A procession of peasants walked on the road toward the hacienda holding torches. The leader, tall and magnificent in carriage, wore a full plumage head gear and a tasseled loincloth. A dozen men behind him wore long white cloaks, followed by field hands.
A voice from behind startled me.
"Are you ready?" Kessler said.
"What's going on?"
"Time for you to see Nachan. It's a special ceremony for tomorrow's mission."
He walked up and stood next to me. Did my eyes deceive me? No, he wore the same type of clothing as the leader of the Indians, a feathered headdress trailing down his back like a peacock's tail, a white cloak, bedecked in jade and pearl necklaces.
"I don't know, I guess so." Fear invaded my good judgment. Two men stood behind me as if to say I'd better not run.
Kessler and I joined the procession leading the way.
We walked into the indigo night toward the fetid staleness of centuries past, the ruins of Nachan. Flashes of lightning, rolling thunder in the distance.
"Well, here we are. Nachan, the city of violent storms."
Up ahead, at the ruins, more torches illuminated the site. Here were the remains of a great civilization, a cultivated people who ascended the ladder of development, witnessed their golden age, and disappeared.
We entered the palace; its thick walls and many chambered rooms, grouped around four courtyards, testified to the Mayan genius for construction. In the center, a tall obelisk reached upward forty feet, a unique feature for Mayan ruins. Was it original or had Kessler added it as a phallic symbol? Around the obelisk stood grotesque statues in bas-relief with shocking visages not anything like Amerindian: faces African and Oriental, faces in agony, tortured, mouths agape in pain.
An Indian passed a gourd to me.
"Drink," Kessler commanded.
"What is it?"
"It's fermented liquor made from honey and the bark of the Balche tree. Here, let me be first."
He took several swallows and so did I. He didn't tell me the drink was hallucinogenic.
We proceeded out of the palace onto the Grand Walkway. Ahead, three step pyramids rose up from the darkness, shadows creating eerie shapes. I felt dizzy and began to walk in a jerky, stiff-legged manner like a zombie. Kessler's voice seemed far away, although he walked beside me.
"In front of you is the Temple of the Twins, to the right, the Temple of the Cross and on the left, the Temple of the Sun."
What was I to make of that? I couldn't help feeling this entire ceremony qualified as pathological.
At the intersection of the three step pyramids, we stopped; a large cauldron of fire blocked our path. Incense permeated the air. A few feet from the cauldron, a raised platform of limestone like an operating table created another round of trepidation. The sides of the object were colored with cinnabar, the color of the east at dawn. Everything seemed out of focus, a nauseous feeling crept into my stomach.
Kessler lowered his voice. "The Indian leader is Pino Aldorfo. He's a shaman, Ah Kin."
Fear ruled my emotions. "What's Ah Kin?"
"He has the power to become a jagman."
I knew enough not to question superstition. The hairs on my neck told me to run. Pino stepped forward, turned, and addressed the throng. An incantation.
"I was called by the gods before I was born when my father struck my mother in anger. I killed him from the womb." He raised his hands in supplication. "I salute Itzamna, Lord of Life and Ah Puch, Land of Death."
"What is this all about?" I whispered.
"The gods require human blood," Kessler said.
He stepped forward as my knees buckled. The two men, who had followed me, grabbed my arms and held me up.
"I am Kukulcan, the one who arrived and gave you new life. Oh, mighty Thor, hail unto thee, the first light and the last light. May we pay homage now at this grave hour." He stared at me with such malice my fear reached its apex.
"Take off your clothes."
"Take off your clothes and lie on the altar." From his belt he pulled out a shiny obsidian knife.
I refused. The men ripped my dress off. I was naked. They lifted me, placed me on the altar, and tied me down. Kessler hovered over me, knife reflecting the flames. I had no doubt he saw himself as an avatar.
His head tilted upward to the heavens. "Nachan is a conduit to Valhalla and access to sacred forces that will guarantee tomorrow's mission a success. The bleeding heart of this woman will appease the gods."
I shivered uncontrollably, straining against the ropes with all my strength.
I managed to speak. "You're insane."
He leered, eyes wild. "Probably."
Kessler placed a jade bead on my lips. I spat it away. He laid a pendant between my breasts, sprinkled red ocher over my body and on my pubic hair.
He raised the obsidian knife high in the air above my heaving chest.