The Treasure of Oro del Toro, the True Mappe
The gathering dusk settled around us as we made our way out of the jungle.
You can smell the stench of civilization long before you see or hear it. We were near the village. Dogs barked, announcing our presence. Villagers shrank into the shadows along the streets and watched as Woman-With-5-Husbands returned from weeks in the jungle. The locals knew the archaeologists would stay briefly then leave again. They were perplexed by the peculiarity of this woman’s authority to take five husbands — not a tradition among their people where instead, men might take five wives.
My crew quickly disappeared down the streets into the dark to waiting places, faces, and business that were not mine to know. Soft voices called to them from the shadows.
I headed for Xoc’s cantina, slipping past its tatty curtain that served as a door and into the welcoming dark. Civilization engulfed me through skin and nostrils. It smelled of men, pulque, and an earth floor with a thousand years of history.
Xoc was at his usual place behind the plank that served as the bar. Under the single naked light-bulb he cast a giant and familiar shadow. Dark but far taller than his fellow villagers his auburn hair and blue eyes set him apart. He extended his hand to welcome me to my beat-up naugahyde barstool then immediately began polishing his best large glass tumbler. We exchanged greetings in his native Quechuan and Spanish.
He polished my glass with the bar-rag, finished it off with the edge of his months-old t-shirt, filled it to the brim with the best house pulque and handed it to me as artfully as any waiter in Paris or London. I paid him in American dollars and behaved like the lady they all thought I was, albeit I allegedly owned five husbands.
Voices in the cantina shadows returned to their quiet conversations as I contemplated the roaches that scuttled across the bar and explored the base of my glass. With his bar-rag, Xoc slapped them to the floor but they scuttled back, clicking, squeaking, and scrambling.
Xoc shrugged and flashed me a “what can I do?” smile. His sharply filed teeth gleamed in the shadows. I nodded in understanding and tried to repress my reaction to filed teeth of the people who live here.
Roaches scuttled over my hands, across my feet, and tried to scale my glass. I contemplated if one would sink or swim should it make it over the edge. Would I pluck it out, or leave it be? Would it stagger or fall over if I laid it out on the bar? Any of that would embarrass Xoc, so my solution would be to leave it in the pulque like scorpions or larvae in tequila: simply a thing to adapt to in another’s culture.
My reverie was interrupted by an intense presence pressing close, and the bright blue eyes of the most ancient man I’d ever seen. He smelled of Bay Rum cologne and gin, his snow-white hair growing profusely from nostrils, ears and face. His parchment-thin skin was palest white and his even whiter shirt was smartly starched. He spoke with the clipped British accent of old. “Excuse me but I understand you and your crew are looking for exotics. I understand you are not looking for gold.”
“Eccentrics,” I corrected him. “The intricate stonework and semi-precious stone blades are archaeologically known as ‘eccentrics’ but I agree with you that they are exotic. Their craftsmen were the world’s best. Gold is nothing but trouble, deception and death. Eccentrics are objects of beauty and light: their colors and intricate shapes make them unique and priceless. The craftsmen of a thousand years ago were superb in their work, the best that the great civilizations of those who live here had to offer.” I stared into his translucent blue eyes as blue as the blades we hoped to find.
The old man, leaning into me, rasped, “My father and I were British surveyors assigned to map boundaries in the Amazon in the 1930s but we abandoned our assignment, disappeared into the jungle, and looked for the lost cities of which there are countless. We liked freedom from civilized ways, took wives, had many children, and did not look back. I’m now almost 100, have survived many good wives, and leave even more children. From the Amazon north to Campeche we searched, settled, then moved on. At age 90 I had lost all my wives and dreamed of ending my life in a place that serves good British gin – I so missed the clean taste of gin. Thanks to Xoc, the cantina serves it.”
“Sir,” I said, ”You have an interesting story, but who are you, and how do you know my business?”
“I am Jack Fawcett, son of Percy. My father’s life is a mystery to the world. Only I know how it ended and with my death it will remain a secret. But we spent many years searching, found ancient cities, and of course the gold, and the exotics.”
“Eccentrics.” I corrected him again.
“Yes, they are always found with gold treasure. Therefore one must deal with the gold to rescue the exotics.” I gave up and let him use his word. “But most importantly you will need trustworthy people for your endeavor.” His words were emphatic.
“I trust my crew who’ve stayed with me for years and share my purpose. None of us have use for gold,” I assured him.
“Good, then. Here I have the map to the city of the exotics. It is yours. I’m too old to pursue the dream. Xoc will help you find the city. He is the best of my many sons and is as trustworthy as the blades are beautiful. It is on an island not far from here known as Oro del Toro – Gold of the Bull. Yes, there is gold but there are exotics everywhere.”
I looked at Xoc. I had no doubts. We made the ubiquitous civilized handshake and then his people’s gesture of trust. “We’re in business,” I said. Flashing his teeth and in the best Brit-English accent he responded, “My pleasure. When do we start?”
As I rose from my tatty barstool, Jack Fawcett grasped my hand and apologized, “And I never asked your name.”
“Boodles,” I said. “My name is Boodles.”