The two men leave the table and speak with the wait staff on the way out. Despite his hostile exterior, de Mendoza takes great care in escorting the wavering Larkin out of the restaurant and has an explosive outburst in Spanish when a server nearly strikes Larkin with a lofted tray of food.
Arthur addresses the table: “Odd, that man de Mendoza said nothing our entire meal, but when I just heard him speak…I’ve been in South America for a while now, he sounded nothing like any of the local accents. I do believe he sounds like a Castillian. I took Spanish lessons from one before traveling abroad…”
“Trust me, there is more odd about that man than his accent, I can assure you,” offers Jesse Hughes. “We should finish our meal here, and go have a drink at the bar. There’s something I’d like to talk to you all about.”
Tip eagerly agrees, “You had me at drink, Jesse.”
John remains concerned, “Do you believe Larkin will be in any kind of shape to travel by Monday? That man seems quite unwell.”
Dibden offers a diagnosis. “Not just unwell, Mr. Sloane, I believe that fellow may be suffering from a withdrawal from narcotics. All the classic symptoms.”
Irina immediately fires off, “So we’re being led by a drug addict? Great, I can’t believe I spent my paltry inheritance on this trip.”
“If we can find out where the pyramid is, we won’t need this sad, sick man then, right?” suggests Lucia.
The meal concludes and the group moves to the bar to Tip’s continued delight. Once situated Jesse Hughes clears his throat and admits that he was not entirely honest at the dinner table, and apologizes for his subterfuge.
“I have every intention of telling you my real name and the whole truth, but, first, what if I told you that Larkin’s story is not only dishonest, but his expedition may be incredibly dangerous?”
Discussion between the group ensues, returning to plans to obtain the location of the pyramid from Larkin and abandon him in Lima. Dibden and Sloane raise valid concerns about the group’s safety.
“Ok, my real name is Jackson Elias, I’m an author, but not of travel guides. I’ve been in Peru for several months researching my latest book on secret societies in Peru. I’ve been focusing on legends of a death cult. The cult has apparently been around for centuries and was rumored to operate around Lake Titicaca, near Puno. While I was in the region, I ran across our friend Larkin and his terrible friend.”
Jackson reveals that Larkin had attempted to recruit locals to explore the pyramid, but they refused due to superstitious fears. Despite his assurances that he had contacted experts, Larkin has repeatedly rebuffed requests by Professor Nemesio Sánchez, a rising scholar from the National University of San Marcos, to join the expedition. As for Larkin’s friend, many locals in Puno warned him that de Mendoza is some sort of vampire, a “kharisiri” that feasts on fat, instead of blood. Jackson chuckles as he recounts this suggestion, but does believe that the folklore may have originated with the arrival of violent conquistadors in the 16th century.
“I’ll be meeting with Nemesio and his assistant tomorrow at the Museo de Arqueología and Antropología tomorrow before noon to discuss some potential documents and artifacts his young researcher uncovered. Would you care to join?”
Everyone in the group agrees that more information would serve them well.
As he readies himself to depart, Jackson lowers his voice and warns them.
“Look, I don’t believe the claims about de Mendoza being a vampire, but I strongly suspect that those two men are somehow involved with this Peruvian death cult. I haven’t figured out how the pyramid and this expedition tie into all this, but I’m concerned they may be luring us to the base of their cult’s operations. In talking to the locals in Puno and around the highlands, I believe there are at least several others collaborating with these men, and they may be responsible for an increasing number of deaths and disappearances in the region around the lake. There could be dozens of practitioners up there. If you chose to proceed with me, I strongly advise serious caution, these cults are not to be trifled with.”
Elias’s grim expression quickly turned to a bright grin as a greeting rings from Bar Cordano’s entrance: “Señor Elias! So good to see you again. Professor Sanchez told me you would be here for your dinner with that ladrón, Larkin.”
“Buenas noches, Señorita Rizo. I understood you would be hard at work, not out enjoying cocktails. Please let me introduce you to my new friends – at least I hope they consider me a friend. Everyone, this is Ms. Trinidad Rizo – Dr. Sanchez’s mostly industrious research assistant.”
“Please, life is too short not to have a little bit of fun, even on the hardest days,” declares Trinidad. “But I should go…after one drink.”
“Well said, young lady,” agrees Tip as he drains his latest Pisco sour, “I’m Señor Tip Palmer, and I’m at your service.”
“Just a beer, please, señor. Do not tell Professor Sanchez, I joined you all this evening. He’s been quite angry today about Larkin. He expected the courtesy of a reply to his most recent message, but not a word. He shares your suspicion, Señor Elias, that his compadre, de Mendoza, may be a dangerous criminal…but more on that tomorrow. Salud!”