Amara was excited as her plane descended into Cancun. It had taken a lot of convincing, but after hours of begging, yelling, and threatening, she had talked her family into letting her skip Thanksgiving and go to Mexico. This story was her big chance, she had said. She purposely didn’t mention anything about her grandfather, though she knew her parents were thinking it. Instead she promised to visit a couple more times next quarter, since they only lived a three-hour drive away.
Besides, she had told them, Puerto Morelos was less than an hour away from Cancun, a fairly safe part of the country. Finally her parents had relented, and now she couldn’t wait to settle in and find Alma Libre, the bookstore with the Maya archives.
The view from the plane was enchanting. Amara watched as the flat, green land turned into jagged buildings juxtaposed with bright white sand. She wondered what the ancient Mayans would have thought about shiny metal buildings and the ability to fly.
As soon as she landed and went through immigration, Amara hailed a cab and headed to Puerto Morelos. It was even more beautiful than Cancun, with long stretches of beach, and a sense of tranquility and contentment. Buildings were smaller and cozier, with a more familiar feel.
She decided to head straight to the bookstore, and check in at her hotel later. As soon as she saw the bookstore, she knew she had made the right choice. The store was welcoming, with bright lights and shelf after shelf of books. Most of the books were used, which Amara felt gave them a certain charm. It had been a while since she had felt nostalgic about print books, but something about the shop made them seem more precious, like they had their own memories.
“¿Puedo ayudarle?” An elderly man popped up from behind a mountain of books. He had a mild Mexican accent, and his nametag read, Jorge.
“Sorry—er…no hablo Español.” Amara blushed.
Jorge broke into a smile. “It’s okay. I just asked if I could help you.”
“Yes, please. I need to do some research on the classic Maya.”
“Wonderful. It’s so rare these days for Maya scholars to come by. Ever since Aaron Rivera…well I shouldn’t talk about it.”
Amara perked up. Jorge’s hesitation intrigued her. “What about Aaron Rivera? I came here to learn as much as possible about the Maya, so may as well start there.”
Jorge’s smile faded. “It’s a sad story. But basically, he was one of the best Maya scholars. He was an American, but he used to come visit here a lot—often for months at a time. We became friends. The last time he was here, he spent a lot of his time going back and forth between Puerto Morelos and Calakmul, where some of the ruins are. One night he called me, and said he had some big news, some big break that could help us all understand Maya civilization and history. He said he’d come back to Puerto Morelos and tell me in person. But then a few days later, rumors were going around that he had killed himself.”
“I didn’t believe it at first,” Jorge said, “you know he wasn’t that kind of guy, so I went to the hotel he’d been staying at. They told me he had been found hanging in his room, and that someone had already collected all his things.” He took a deep breath. “Whew, it’s been a while since I’ve told that story. Most Maya scholars stopped coming around here after that, bad karma or something. And I’ve just kept it to myself ever since.”
Amara tried to comfort the man. “I’m sorry to hear about your loss, but when did this happen? I have a professor who recommended I come here.”
“Sure, a few scholars here and there have stopped by,” Jorge said, regaining his composure. “This happened, oh almost six years ago now.”
“What’s wrong, señorita?”
“My grandfather—he was in Mexico six years ago. He killed himself too, in Cal—Calakmul. His name wasn’t Aaron Rivera though. It was Allen Randall. But that has to be him, right? He was obsessed with the Maya. When I was little, I remember his study was filled with books, and notes, and—it can’t be just a coincidence.”
Jorge shook his head. “I don’t know, señorita, but it does sound plausible. You know, there was one strange thing.”
“What?” Amara had to use all her will power not to lean into Jorge. But if Aaron Rivera was her grandfather, she wanted to know everything.
“Well, right before I found out he…passed away…a boy delivered a package. He said he got a strange call in the middle of the night to bring it to me, that the sender was Señor Rivera, and he had told the boy I should hold on to the package for a couple days. But it wasn’t exactly a package. Just a rag wrapped around an arrowhead. Anyway, the boy said if I didn’t hear from Señor Rivera after a few days, then I was to mail it to the address attached—somewhere in California. So I did.”
Amara bit her tongue. It had to be the same arrowhead her grandfather had bequeathed her, but she didn’t want to say anything yet. Jorge seemed nice enough, she just didn’t know yet if she could trust him. Her eyes watered at the thought that her grandfather spent some of his final days in Alma Libre, and she looked around, imagining him perusing the books.
She blinked back her tears. “Can you please show me whatever you have in your archives? I have to do some research, now.”
Amara spent the next two days holed up in the bookstore. She read every text, looked at every possible glyph, and studied all the pictures she could find of the ruins at Calakmul. She pieced together more of her secret threatening note, something about body and head, but she soon dropped her translation attempts as she became too preoccupied researching what were potentially her grandfather’s last days. There wasn’t much to know, other than facts about ancient Maya life and when they built their pyramids.
At the end of her second day in the store, Jorge came up to her, with a big smile. “I found something that may help.” He held out a piece of yellowing, torn paper. “I just remembered Aaron, or Allen, if it’s the same man, gave this to me the night before he left for Calakmul. It was a page from his journal, though I was never able to find his journal after his death. He also gave me some other items, but I can’t remember where they are anymore.”
Amara took the paper. It was a drawing of her arrowhead, the exact same size and shape. As she looked at the sketch, she realized that if her grandfather had trusted Jorge, she could too. She pulled out her arrowhead from her pocket. “It’s the same, it has to be. Aaron Rivera was Allan Randall.”
Jorge’s eyes widened with excitement. “Dios Mío! You are Aaron Rivera’s granddaughter?” He wrapped his arms around her in a hug. “That is wonderful to know.”
Amara smiled and hugged him back. He felt warm, and she was reminded of her grandfather. Then her phone rang, and she had to let go. “Sorry. I promised my parents I’d always answer.”
“Hello?” she said when she picked up.
“Yes, may I please speak to Amara Randall?”
“This is she.”
“This is John Chapman, from the Laguna Police. We got word from your neighbor that there was a robbery early this morning, so we’re just calling to follow-up with you.”
“Oh my gosh—I’m not there, I’m in Mexico doing research—but what happened?”
“Well, it seems someone broke in through your window. The whole place has been ransacked. Miss, you may want to come back soon to see if anything is missing.”
“Yes, of course, I’ll be there as soon as I can. Was anyone hurt? Have you been able to get a hold of Cayden? He’s the other tenant.” Cayden was home with his family for the Thanksgiving holiday, but that didn’t stop Amara from feeling a jolt of anxiety for his safety.
“No, it appears no one was home at the time of the robbery. We did try to reach Mr. Boyd, though we have not successfully connected with him yet. But you will need to file a report as soon as possible.”
“Sure, whatever needs to be done.” Amara started packing up her notes, trying to remember if she had bought a flexible plane ticket home. She stopped for a moment, panicked that her hard drive with all her research and backed up vlog posts might have been stolen. “Does anything obvious seem to be missing? You know, TV, computer, anything along those lines?”
There was a short pause on the other line. Amara held her breath and anticipated the worst.
“It looks like they drank all of your…juice?”