Nancy, now that she was outside again, realized she could see more than she had for the past hour or so. Her vision was still a little bit blurry, but it was definitely a marked improvement from when she'd woken up in the helicopter hours before. However, her headache, which had abated considerably during their jungle trek, had returned slightly with the exertion of swimming. She let Frank guide her to the edge of the pool and she pulled herself up on land between some prickly bushes, still coughing. As the group caught their collective breaths, Nancy was aware that the hillside containing the cavern was quickly disintegrating into itself.
"Do you think those three could have survived that?" she asked when the rocky deluge seemed to have finally stopped.
Frank, beside her, shrugged. "I don't know. I doubt it," he added somberly.
"We'd need Search and Rescue in any case," Joe put in. "And we have to get to the authorities for that."
Nancy nodded, taking the hand Frank offered her as he pulled her to her feet and untied their wrists. "Do you guys see a vehicle?"
"No, but I'm betting they parked nearby," Joe said. "I think all three criminals made their way here separately, but King was the last to show."
Frank agreed, and the group slowly picked their way back to where they thought the entrance of the cave was located. Before they came to it, however, Joe spotted a jeep in the distance. As the group drew even with the vehicle, Joe groaned. "The tires have been slashed," he reported. "I'll bet this belongs to Henry King. Lockman and Honig must have been waiting for him to appear, and then disabled his jeep as he went into the cave so he wouldn't be able to leave."
"So the decision to cut him out of the deal wasn't made on the spur of the moment at all," Frank murmured. "All right, keep an eye out for any other vehicles."
Raya spotted a military-like truck not too far away, almost completely concealed by the jungle. "This is Honig's ride," Joe told them. "I recognize it from when I was in the helicopter."
"What about Lockman's?" Nancy wondered. "Do you see it nearby?"
A cursory search revealed nothing. "She probably met Honig back at Muyaxche and they decided to come here together," Frank speculated. "That's too bad, because we need to take this truck in order to get back—which means, if anyone survived, there'll be no quick way out of the jungle."
"I'm fine with that," Joe said decisively. "They killed Edward Chan, and they were planning on leaving us here."
Nancy wasn't sure how the brothers managed to start the truck, but she had a sneaking suspicion Joe had hot-wired it. Frank sat beside her in the back seat, seemingly remaining calm although Nancy was sure he wanted to comment on Joe's punishing pace. They were out on the main highway in less than an hour, Nancy was sure. A little later, she joined in the discussion about where they should stop for help. Frank wanted to get her and Raya to a hospital right away at the first small town, but Raya and Nancy both disagreed, saying their injuries could wait. Joe suggested driving back to Cancun so that they could at least get to the embassy. All four seemed to think that was the most logical idea, and so they found themselves arriving in the city a couple of hours later.
It was at this point that Nancy argued that it would be better if they split up. She had a hunch, seeing as it was the middle of the night, that they would have a hard time trying to get a hold of someone at the consulate. "I think Raya and I should seek medical attention," she said to Frank. "I'll leave it to you to straighten things out about Muyaxche."
He nodded slowly. "All right. Where shall we meet?"
"Back at the resort is probably the easiest," Nancy told him.
The Hardys saw them into the Emergency Room waiting area, but indeed left at Nancy's urging. She and Raya ended up spending the remainder of the night in the hospital. Although Nancy's medical Spanish was limited, she gathered the doctors were concerned given her transient loss of sight. She willingly agreed to their tests and stayed to learn the results, but she was more than a little frustrated when she and Raya were finally discharged much later in the morning with no clear diagnosis. The hospital staff was nice enough to recommend a reputable taxi service, but it wasn't until nearly noon that Nancy and Raya made it back to the resort. The first thing Raya did was claim she needed a bath.
"Oh, never have I craved a shower so badly in my life," Raya said to Nancy afterward, closing her eyes blissfully as she shook out her newly washed hair in the warm afternoon air. "I'm used to working in the field and roughing it, but the past twenty-four hours have been something else."
"I know what you mean," Nancy agreed. After jumping in the shower herself, she dressed and made her way next-door to the Hardys' room. She knocked a few times, but realized they hadn't come back yet. She slipped a note under their door, and when she returned to her own room she realized Raya had stretched out on the suite's second bed and was sound asleep. Nancy smiled a little and decided to do the same. She'd slept fitfully in the hospital, but she knew she was still exhausted.
She was awoken a few hours later by an insistent knock on the door. Muttering under her breath, she wrenched the door open and came face-to-face with Frank and Joe. "Oh, you're back. Everything OK?"
Joe rolled his eyes at Frank. "See? The girls are fine. I'm going to get cleaned up," he announced. With that, he strode away.
Frank stared at Nancy for a long moment, then turned his gaze in the direction of Joe's departing back. "We have to chat," he said to her, "but we should probably wait until we're all together—and more presentable."
Nancy looked him up and down, her much improved sight taking in his rumpled pants, the fraying hem of his shirt, and his water-curled hair falling across his forehead. She smiled fondly. "Sure, sounds good. Just knock when you're set."
Both Nancy and Raya were ready when the brothers called again. This time, Nancy noted, they looked worlds better, with clean clothes and washed hair. Frank seemed prepared to start the conversation right then and there in the room, but Joe dragged them down to the beach so they could all enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.
"What did the embassy say?" Nancy asked immediately as soon they had taken up their positions on some lounge chairs.
"Well, at first they didn't believe us," Joe conceded, his blue eyes revealing a spark of exasperation. "I mean, I guess our story did sound a bit fantastic, especially in the wee hours of the morning. Eventually Frank managed to get through to someone when he mentioned Edward Chan a few times."
Frank nodded. "Apparently Chan had visited the embassy upon his arrival and tried to convince the authorities that something was going on. As Joe said, no one wanted to listen to us initially, but the authorities finally agreed to an investigation—after I showed them my photos of Chan's body."
Nancy raised a brow at him. "The pictures survived?" she questioned. "I would have thought your camera would have been useless after being in the water."
Frank shrugged. "It's an underwater camera. Worked like a charm."
"Frank and I went back to Muyaxche this morning with the investigators," Joe went on. "And up to the cave. As far as we can tell, no one made it out. The Mexican officials are sifting through the rubble for survivors. They collected Chan's body and that of the pilot, though."
"What about Emily Sturling and Gemsun?" Nancy wondered. "Did the money really go through to Carole Lockman?"
Frank shrugged again. "Probably. We found out that Sturling went back to the States early this morning. The embassy promised to get in touch with her to learn more about the land sale. She may be able to get her money back, even in the event Lockman is still missing or declared dead."
"That's good news," Nancy enthused. "That means the investors you're representing might not lose any money on this horrible venture."
"I talked to Martin Ivers and Tessa Russo already," Frank told her, "and I explained the situation. They seemed satisfied that Sturling would return their investments." He turned to his brother. "Tessa Russo knows we haven't cashed her check yet, Joe. I say we do so as soon as we get back home—and donate the money to a non-profit environmental group in honor of Edward Chan."
Joe nodded. "I like that idea," he said. He caught Nancy's little pleased smile before she could hide it. "What?" he demanded. "I think it's fitting."
Nancy lowered her eyes demurely. "Well, I guess there was gold at Muyaxche all along," she said.
"What do you mean?" Joe asked, looking puzzled.
"You two obviously have…hearts of gold."
Joe groaned at her wisecrack, rolling his eyes. "Anyway," he went on, clearly trying to change the subject, "what about you two? Everything turn out OK at the hospital?"
"Yep," Nancy said quickly.
"I got a clean bill of health," Raya told them, smoothing her shiny locks. "Just a bit of dehydration, starvation, and fatigue. Nothing a night in a Mayan Riviera resort can't fix."
"Hear, hear," Joe cheered. Nancy noted the appreciative glance he directed toward the dark-haired girl. "I know where we can find something to eat. Come with me." He took Raya's hand and steered her over to a nearby restaurant, which from Nancy could hear people chatting as they sampled the dinner buffet.
Nancy and Frank watched the two of them disappear, Frank merely shaking his head. Finally, he turned toward her, and Nancy felt her pulse speed up slightly. "Nancy, what did the doctor say about your eyesight?" Frank wondered, his voice gentle.
She smiled at him, inwardly touched that he was still concerned about her. "It's almost back to normal now," she replied. "She told me it was probably from swelling around the optic nerve, or something like that, and that the fact that my vision is getting better means the swelling is going down." Frank opened his mouth as if to add something, but Nancy had a feeling what he was going to say. "Don't worry, Hardy, I promise I'll get a thorough check-up the minute I get back home."
They joined Joe and Raya for dinner, and then the group claimed a set of comfy chairs and a table in the open-air jazz lounge. The three detectives took turns explaining to Raya the series of events that had led to their finding her. They were all chuckling over one of Joe's little jokes when Nancy became aware of a hobbling figure making its way over to them.
"I hope I'm not interrupting," came his low voice as he came up to the group.
"Alex!" cried Raya, standing up and rushing over to him to throw her arms around his neck, causing him to rock back on his crutches a little. "What are you doing here?"
"What a greeting!" Alex Leon grinned. "I think I came all this way for that."
Raya pulled back, looking puzzled. "I don't understand."
"I came with the intention of rescuing you, but obviously I'm a little too late. Oh well. Can I get a kiss with that hug anyway?"
"Oh, you!" Raya squealed. She obliged him, and then both of them pulled away after a moment, looking red. Joe pulled up an extra seat for Alex, and he settled stiffly into it, putting his crutches aside. "I was just being informed on the details of my rescue," Raya told Alex.
Alex listened in amazement as Nancy and the Hardys described what had occurred since they arrived at the resort two days ago. Alex seemed quite distressed to learn his colleagues had been caught in a rock fall, but he was definitely glad Raya had made it out in one piece.
"You know, there's one thing I still don't understand," Alex said thoughtfully. "Who pushed you down the stairs that day I met you, Nancy?"
Nancy looked at him wryly. "At the time, I thought perhaps that incident on the stairs was directed at me because I was asking too many questions, but now…I actually think you were the one who was targeted and I just happen to be there."
Alex looked shocked. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, I really hadn't made an impression on King and Lockman at that point—they probably didn't know about me. I erroneously jumped to conclusions—" Nancy glanced toward the Hardys—"and thought I was the one under attack." She cleared her throat, avoiding Joe's offended look. "But it was you they were after all along, even the accident where you broke your leg. Can you describe the details of that to me? You were riding your bike, correct?"
"Yep. I usually ride my bike from my place to the university. Well, one day I was heading home—and what do you know? This car comes out of nowhere and tries to pass me. Then suddenly the driver turned toward me, and cut me off! I mean, there was hardly any traffic. Anyway, I hit the curb and my leg broke my fall," he finished with a grin at his wit.
Nancy looked at him thoughtfully. "Do you wear anything distinctive—like a helmet or something?"
"Well, yes," he said slowly, running his fingers through his dark hair.
"It's a neon blue helmet," Raya added quickly, earning a pleasantly surprised look from Alex.
"Yes, that's right," he continued. "I guess it's distinctive. I also wear my biking pants with special reflective stripes—I like them because the hems have reinforced elastic to keep cold air from coming up the legs. But I love the pants so much that I wear them almost all the time. I suppose everyone on campus can identify me by those."
"Hmm…" Nancy sighed softly. "I hate to tell you this, Alex, but it definitely sounds like they wanted to get rid of you. King and Honig couldn't have you go on that second trip, and they made sure of that by trying to injure you. I would guess John Honig was behind that—he seemed to admit it when we were back in the cave."
"It probably would have been difficult to keep the mine scheme a secret with you around," Nancy told him. "Having a crack archeologist on site would have ruined their plans."
"Well, I'm not exactly a 'crack' archeologist," he began modestly.
Raya cut him off. "What do you mean? You knew the Tajal Ut was a fake within seconds, didn't you?"
"Well…minutes," he hedged.
Nancy laughed. "Anyway, I think Henry King was the one who tried to push you down the stairs. I remember now—you had just given your gala RSVP to his secretary, Joanne, and then we left your office and subsequently we were shoved in the stairwell. Later, I learned Joanne had talked to King after you called her. I'm sure King must have panicked when he heard you were coming to the gala, knowing you could ID the statue as a fake. He probably came right over and engineered the whole 'elevator out-of-order' scheme, and then waited for us to use the stairs."
"So he wanted to injure me further so I would be out of commission for the gala?" Alex finished.
Nancy nodded. "Probably."
"And he was the one who broke into Professor Ramirez's rooms," Joe added. "He probably wanted Ramirez to be occupied with something else in case he had been planning to come to gala."
"But both of you showed up in the end," Frank said. "That's why he needed to get that statue out of there. He only needed it to convince the investors about the gold, but having you two take a closer look would have exposed the scheme prematurely."
"It's just so incredible," Alex said, his voice awed. "And to think none of us would have been the wiser if you hadn't disappeared, Raya." He hung his head a little. "Actually, I didn't even think you were missing. I thought you had gotten too busy in your excavation here and you had finally given up on your e-mails."
Raya patted his hand sympathetically. "It's all right. It was a reasonable assumption to make."
"It's a good thing Professor King sent that threatening letter to you," Nancy put in. "That's what really made Daphne suspicious."
"I guess we have Daphne to thank for everything," Alex murmured, a slow smile coming across his face as he looked at Raya. "I talked to her yesterday—she's the one who insisted I come down here. She mentioned something about you mentioning me fondly in your e-mails earlier in the summer?"
Raya's lips parted, but before she could say anything, Nancy got to her feet. "We'll leave you two, then. I'm sure you have some things to discuss."
With that, Nancy and the Hardys moved away, heading for the beach. Before they could get too far, however, the trio was stopped by two middle-aged men dressed in formal attire. Frank and Joe seemed to recognize the pair; they introduced Nancy to an embassy official and someone representing the Mexican police. The men explained they only wanted her statement, and she gave it to them willingly. Although the authorities remained fairly tight-lipped during the interview, they did say they still had not found any bodies in the cave-in.
The officials left shortly thereafter, indicating that the young people were free to return home the next day. Nancy turned toward her companions, but before she could say anything, a giant yawn overtook her without warning. Nancy looked at the brothers apologetically. "Sorry. I think I still need a good night's sleep. Hope you don't mind if I duck out early."
"Nope," Joe told her. "Have a good night."
Frank nodded, holding her gaze for a long moment, but remained silent. Nancy made her way back to her room, her mind in a bit of turmoil. As soon as she unlocked the door, she placed a call to her father. To her relief, he answered immediately. After a serious scolding about her disregard for her safety, he relented and informed her about his case against Lockman in Chicago. "We should be able to recover the money she received from the investors," he said. "But the Millers aren't seeking monetary compensation from her. Her presumed death has been met with shock here. She was a good employee, apparently."
Nancy made a noncommittal sound, and steered the conversation to more personal matters. When she hung up, she felt better. She hated worrying her father, but she knew he was proud of her.
Nancy debated whether or not to call Daphne, but decided against it. Raya had already called her before they had gone down for dinner, and Nancy had nothing new to add. Daphne had mentioned she was flying out to Chicago to be with her brothers, and Nancy promised herself that she would get in touch with the Millers as soon as she was back in the States. I guess I fulfilled my promise to Thomas Miller to bring his sister home, Nancy thought wryly, although I'm not responsible for her return in the least.
Next, she tried to call her boyfriend, Ned, but his answering service came on. She accordingly left a message, some of her good feeling ebbing away. She then talked briefly to her friends, Bess and George, both of whom were at George's and were on speakerphone. The girls listened to her brief outline of her case, exclaiming at times when Nancy described an exciting event. She held back on the more dangerous occurrences, but she knew the cousins would get it all out of her when they promised to get together in a few days. Nancy also refrained from saying too much about Frank Hardy, but somehow she suspected Bess knew there was more going on than she mentioned.
Finally, Nancy called home and talked with Hannah for a while. Hannah often expressed her dislike of Nancy's penchant for getting in trouble, but she was clearly full of pride for the girl detective. When Nancy climbed into bed a few minutes later, she felt an overwhelming sense of good fortune, especially now that she could see the glowing digits of the bedside clock with no blurriness at all. I'll have to work on not taking so many things for granted, she told herself as she drifted off to sleep.
Nancy didn't see the Hardys again until the next morning, when they all boarded the bus heading to the airport. Joe gave a customary grumble about having to be up so early, to which Nancy only smiled.
"Where's Raya?" Frank asked, looking around.
"Oh, she and Alex decided to stay here another couple of days," Nancy told him, recalling what Raya had said to her earlier. "Apparently, Alex wasn't too keen on facing the hassle of traveling with his crutches again just yet, and Raya volunteered to keep him company while he recuperates."
Frank nodded, and they sat in a comfortable silence, each looking out the window as the lush Mexican landscape sped by. The airport was a little chaotic when they arrived, with Nancy learning her flight to Chicago was almost ready to board. Frank and Joe checked in as well, but their flight to New York wasn't for another couple of hours. However, they all went through security together, and then the guys accompanied Nancy to her gate. Nancy realized with a bit of dismay that the passengers were already heading out to the plane. She turned to Frank and Joe, her heart a little heavy.
They looked at one another for a long moment before Frank spoke. "It was very nice to work with you," Frank told her in a serious voice, extending his hand.
Nancy set her carry-on bag down and eyed his hand for a moment before stepping up to him to wrap her arms loosely around his chest. "You, too," she said, smiling up at him. His brown eyes sparkled, and then he straightened his posture and pulled away from her, almost reluctantly. She felt a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach, but she deliberately ignored it, turning instead to Joe and enveloping him in an embrace as well.
Finally, she stepped back and hoisted her bag on her shoulder again. "Hopefully it won't be the last time we work together."
Joe flashed her a winsome grin. "You won't believe this, Nancy, but Frank actually told me—moments after we met you—that this might be the start of a long partnership."
Her spirits lifted as she directed her gaze toward the aforementioned person, who had the good grace to turn a little red. "I'd like that," Nancy said softly. As she spoke, the last of the passengers filed past the checkpoint, and the man at the desk waved Nancy over. She nodded, and started to move toward him, but not before she heard the younger brother murmur to the elder:
"What did I tell you earlier, Frank? We have to keep our enemies close, and our friends even closer."
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