The Shrine of Akumal

Sneak peak: Chapter 1

The Shrine of Akumal



Second Mayday Salvage and Rescue Adventure









The Chetumal Border Crossing from Mexico to Belize


Taz Keaton set his backpack on the concrete floor of the tiny block building and watched the Mexican lieutenant study his passport, re-check his computer, and then look nervously to one side as he stood up.

"Rats," Taz muttered, still smiling as the lieutenant put his hand on the butt of his pistol.

The Mexican looked confused. "What?"

Taz leaned casually against the counter. "You didn't stand up the entire time I waited in line, but as soon as you scanned my passport you stood up like something was wrong. So I said rats."

"Rats? Why rats? I don't understand."

"It's just a saying, like holy cow or sick as a dog. Maybe you refer to armadillos and spider monkeys down here."

The lieutenant looked even more confused, but shook it off and with a stern but nervous voice said, "Never mind about the rats—"

"And the cows and dogs?"




"You mean, yes forget about them, or yes don't talk about them?"

"Never mind about any of that," the frustrated lieutenant said as he compared Taz's long blonde hair, hanging over his blue eyes, to the passport photo of him looking professional in a suit. Then he looked again at his screen. "Mister Tanner Zachary Keaton, it seems that you're trying to leave Mexico alone. Is that correct?"

Taz laughed, trying to throw the momentum of a fight-or-flight encounter in any direction that might be surprising. He leaned farther across the counter and winked. "I did try to convince a gorgeous young local to come with me, but it turned out she had a pretty big boyfriend who didn't like me for some odd reason and the whole idea…well, it kind of went south."

He kept grinning, acting as relaxed as he would on one of the beautiful nearby beaches with a tropical drink in his hand, but all the while he listened closely to the noises in the room, particularly the growing silence as soldiers closed in behind him, quietly warning people to leave the small building or get down on the floor. Their footsteps were soft but their whispers worried, as if just now starting to doubt the training they'd received at some point in their past, and wondering if they really were ready for a violent confrontation after so many boring days watching locals cross the border.

The small lieutenant stood as tall as possible once the soldiers got close, but his courage was apparently only badge deep because he still fidgeted the way fearful men do before a fight.

"I saw a report on the screen," he said, his eyes looking beyond Taz for reassurance from his men, "that your brother, Samuel Donovan—"

"My half-brother."

"Was spotted at a checkpoint three miles away. Yet here you are pretending to be traveling alone."

Taz counted the footsteps that stopped behind. Then, "Sam's close? Well I sure wish I'd seen him because he owes me five dollars." He stuck his Ray-Bans into a shirt pocket and buttoned it. "I don't mean that Sam's not good about paying his debts, it's just that I have to find him first and that's not always easy. So thanks for the tip. Maybe I'll go sit on that bench over there and wait for him."

"You expect me to believe that Mister Donovan is close to this border but you're not traveling together?"

The breathing behind Taz grew shallow and fast as a weapon was flipped off safety and the sling of another clicked against its barrel.

"Sam and I always travel separately. It's an old habit. Your English is excellent, by the way."

The officer put Taz's passport on his counter to free up his hands. "Passing through a border a few minutes apart hardly constitutes separate travel."

"Sam has gas."


"He has gas, and that takes the fun out of traveling with him. Do you have a problem with gas?"


Taz smiled again. "It's okay if you do and really nothing to be ashamed of, but Sam is big and furry and gas is a nasty addition to that. But your gas might be different."

"I don't have a problem with gas."

"That's good to know." Taz spun around and faced the three armed soldiers standing close. He kept smiling and acted as though they were all friends. "Relax, guys, your man here says he doesn't have gas. Think we can trust him? He looks a bit sketchy to me."

"And you really don't know where Mister Donovan is?"

Taz turned back, now sure of the odds. "I didn't say that because it wouldn't be the truth."


Taz pointed out through the big window. "Do you see that little white car waiting in the long line to cross the border?"

The lieutenant glanced out at dozens of vehicles idling in two lanes on the narrow road to the Rio Hondo Bridge. "There are many white cars."

"You're right, there are. White's a popular color here, probably because of the heat, right? Anyway, I think Sam's driving the one about twenty back."

"It seems unlikely that you would point him out."

"Sam and I have kind of an odd relationship."

The lieutenant waved his hand as if clearing away confusion. "Fine, fine, you can play games if you like, Mister Keaton, but Mister Donovan will eventually attempt to cross one of our borders and when he does we will arrest him, just like you."

"Yeah, look, about that…I'm really sorry for singing so badly in that karaoke bar. I'm not sure what came over me, other than tequila, of course. That and Pete's phone call about starting up a band. I figured that if we ever got around to doing that, I could use the practice."

"You are charged with several counts of attempted murder while shooting up a beachfront restaurant in Akumal."

Taz lurched forward, but not enough to earn a rifle butt into the back of his head. "Now hold on Ace, I'm probably guilty of a lot of little things, but shooting up a place is never one of them."

The lieutenant ignored him and turned toward the distant sound of a siren heading their way.

"Well, okay, it's almost never one of them."

"And you destroyed several vendors' stands in Akumal Village."

"Okay, I did do that, but only because the guys shooting at us had completely blocked that exit. You know the one? Through the stone arch at the bottom of the road?"

"I know it, yes."

"And my office has already made restitution to every one of those vendors. I bought all their goods, too, so if you're interested in some nice Mexican blankets or a load of turquoise jewelry, I'm a good guy to know."

"The report makes no mention of anyone other than you and Mister Donovan shooting at the beach."

"Then whoever wrote that report is corrupt."

The officer straightened. "That is a dangerous allegation to make against a Mexican authority, Mister Keaton."

"Then I find that kind of exciting, especially since there were dozens of witnesses and the jungle next to the beach had to be littered with our attacker's shell casings. So whoever wrote that report had to be corrupt."

"Then you do admit to doing the shooting."

"I do not. I only admit that we were shot at while eating dinner on the beach and I tried to get the others under cover. That's all."

"We're told that Mister Donovan shot back quite aggressively."

"That does sound like Sam." Taz nodded as he looked out and saw a truck with soldiers fighting its way through the stalled line of cars.

The lieutenant looked at the truck too. "We intend to arrest him."

"Then wait right there and I'll get him for you."

Taz turned and pushed suddenly through the surprised soldiers, walked to the open door of the small block building with only one of them quick enough to follow, aimed a finger at a white car waiting in the long line, and whistled.

The little white car jumped up, shot toward the median, bounced over it and raced past the uniformed but unarmed men at the inspection station, barreling toward the chain link fence that protected the Mexican Border Checkpoint.

"Here he comes now," Taz said, mostly to the travelers on the floor or backed against the far wall. "You people should leave so you don't get hurt, because in a few seconds a lot of people might."

They disappeared in a blink but the soldiers were stuck in uncertainty, staring out the big windows at a tiny little car with a giant hairy driver just seconds away from crashing into their building. One soldier aimed his rifle through the open window but only got off two shots before leaping away as Sam's car exploded into the block wall and sent bits of concrete flying.

"I'll take that," Taz said, grabbing his passport as Sam's car crashed all the way through the wall and carried away the lieutenant's desk. He dodged a falling beam as Sam opened the car door, rolled out and slid across the floor, managing to stop just short of the back wall as the car smashed into it and sent soldiers scattering to escape the collapsing building.

Taz yelled for Sam to follow him out the door that led to Belize, and several shots rang out as Sam got close and said, "I'm afraid I just created a lot of paperwork for Byron."

Taz picked up the pace. "We give him job security."

"What was that all about? You run into another angry boyfriend?"

"I'm not sure, other than we were set up by somebody. There's the Rio Hondo."

"The Mexicans obviously called Belize. See the military setting up on the other side?"

"I guess that's why he was stalling back there. Let's jump into the river like we're swimming downstream. Go to the bottom and turn around and swim until we find a bridge piling. Follow it to the surface and meet me under the bridge. Ready?"

"You hear them shooting?"


"That tends to make me ready. To adventure," Sam shouted as he vaulted the guardrail and leaped to the slow-moving brown water.

Taz jumped behind him, releasing his pack so it would float downstream as a distracting target for the soldiers to shoot at and follow. He swam to the river bottom and crawled upstream through the filth and debris, almost out of breath when he finally found a bridge piling in the darkness. He followed it to the surface where Sam was watching bullets pepper the sunlit brown water.

"By the way, Sam, I was only motioning you to walk in and help sort things out. I didn't expect you to remodel their building into a drive-through."

"I couldn't be sure. Was that about the shoot-out at Akumal?"

"They say it was but I'm not convinced."

"How did they know it was us?"

"More to the point, why didn't they care that we were the victims and not the perpetrators?"

"I'm never a victim, Taz."

"It sure is nasty under here."

"It stinks."

"They probably got a good description of us from…now where are you going?"

"Who are you?" Sam barked over the relentless gunfire as he breast-stroked toward the Belizean side of the river.

Taz looked and saw an aging hippie squatting on a rock in the shadow of the bridge, grinning at the automatic fire shredding Taz's pack as it floated away in pieces.

"Hi," Taz said, smiling as he swam over and climbed onto the same rock, while Sam loomed over the hippie and dripped water onto the man's clothes.

"That sure makes me miss the old days," the hippie said.

"Were you a drug dealer?"

He shook his head slowly, mesmerized by the bullets splattering the water. "I never got involved in the drug trade. It's a good thing, too, since the cartels have now made it so dangerous."

Sam looked him over. "Are you former military? A soldier of fortune? French Foreign Legion?"

"Maybe a paintball champion of some sort?"

"Nope," he said, still grinning. "Nothing nearly as dramatic as any of that."

"You are an American, right?"

"I might still be but I'm not sure. Lost touch a long time ago. Which way you boys want to go now, into Belize or back to Mexico?"

"Belize sounds pretty good to me. Sam?"

"It stinks down here."

"It is unpleasant," the man said, "but overall Belize is a beautiful country. I just happen to find the access a little easier down here. Would you care to follow me?"

Taz looked at Sam, who shrugged and said, "This could be a trap. They might even have missed us up there just to drive us down here to this lunatic for some crazy reason."

"Sam means lunatic in a good way. Don't you, Sam?"

"I'm not offended by Mister Donovan, and yes it could certainly be a trap. You're clearly worth a nice reward, so you should carefully consider whom you decide to trust."

Taz grinned at Sam. "He knows your name, Sam. Does that make you feel better or worse?"

"And of course I know yours too, Mister Keaton."

"Then I guess I can answer that question for myself, because I don't feel too good about it."

The man glanced up as two pairs of soldiers' boots stepped cautiously over the top of the bank. "I think I'll leave now," the man said as he turned and walked quickly toward a large culvert pipe with an opened grate. "It's definitely time to go."

Taz looked at Sam and shrugged. "What the hell. I guess it's time to say hello to Belize."

"God, that river really does stink."