Hot humid air choked Isabella as she stepped through the glass doors of the Mundo Maya airport and into the shaded portico.
After asking for a sabbatical and suffering through the vaccinations, she’d bought a ticket to Guatemala, and following the university’s recommendations regarding packing for the jungle, she’d boarded the plane. Twenty-four hours later, she wanted a shower and a soft bed knowing after tonight she’d be sleeping on a cot until she and Virgil deciphered the tablet.
Isabella pushed her light-weight glasses higher on her nose and scanned the empty portico. With her box of survival equipment clutched under one arm, she plucked at her clinging cotton tank. The arid Arizona heat back home was more tolerable than gagging on this humidity.
The shaded portico spared her eyes from the bright sunlight beyond the cover. A small man stepped from the shadows of a concrete pillar blocking her path. His facial features were classic Mesoamerican.
The man barely stood as tall as her shoulder. Her lips started to curve into a welcome smile when sunlight glinted off a large, wide-blade knife he pointed her direction.
The knife grew to the size of a machete in her mind as the man stalked toward her his face scrunched in an evil sneer. Fear gave way to anger.
She was bigger. She knew martial arts. She could…what? Inhaling deep, she focused on her center and waited. Shamutz! All those years of Taekwondo and in a crisis all I can think to do was scream and run. But her throat constricted and her legs remained rooted to the ground.
Her gaze flicked to the knife point growing closer. Panic tried to squeeze up her dry throat. She would be stabbed and robbed and there wasn’t a thing she could do, if her frozen limbs were any indication to her bravery.
The travel agent and Virgil had warned against traveling alone in rural areas, but she’d assumed the airport would be safe. Swallowing the fear building in her throat, she breathed slowly. Someone had to see what was happening. She craned her neck, stared at the terminal doors, and willed someone to step from the building and frighten the man away. Inside, there’d been guards. Where were they now?
The man and his dark beady eyes stopped within knife striking distance.
“Get me the package.”
“What?” His thickly accented English confused her, however, even in her panic she couldn’t help but notice his eyes peering holes in her cardboard box.
She clutched the box containing her “survival” vest, a vest of many pockets filled with everything needed to get out of any situation, and shook her head. “You can’t have my vest.” She’d die before giving up her security armament. She’d had in her possession a facsimile of this vest since she was ten. The contents had helped her out of several mishaps. With shaking fingers, she dug into the side pocket of her broomstick skirt for the centavos she had at the ready for the taxi. “I’ll give you this.” She held out her hand, palm up, showing him the coins.
Yellow teeth, pointed as a spider monkey’s, punctuated the malice in his smile. “No money. I want package.”
Indignation stirred her blood. The items in the box could mean the difference between life and death in the jungle. She stared at the man and the knife. Are the contents of the box worth losing my life right now? Not finishing her genealogy project would be the same as death. She had to help Virgil and get the money to fund her project.