One Week Earlier
The evening before Mesoamerican Civilizations, Amanda tried her luck in the short loan library - albeit without much hope in her heart.
It was as expected. After reaching the third title on the reading list - and the third gap on the shelf - Amanda gave up. She headed to the main desk, plonking the list in front of Glenn.
"You wanted my phone number?" She took out her pen and scribbled on the paper.
Glenn looked up, bemused. "Erm, sure... cool."
"Here." Amanda handed him the list. "Give me a call when your girlfriend is done with the books."
Before Glenn could reply, Amanda spun on her heels and disappeared through the revolving door.
The next morning, Amanda woke early to a loud and angry sound. Rain splattered against her bedroom window, with force suggesting a will to get inside and drench her. Violent gusts of wind rattled the window pane, as if to emphasise the point.
Yawning, Amanda slid out of her cosy bed and wandered, bleary-eyed to the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later, she dug determinedly in the back of her disorganised cupboard until she unearthed her raincoat. It was a rather expensive waterproof jacket she'd bought in England. Amanda had worn the raincoat almost every day during her time there but, curiously, not needed it since returning.
She threw on the coat over her brown roll neck sweater and pulled on knee high boots over her skinny jeans. Taking care, as always, to dual lock her door, she set out for class.
Outside, the weather was as grim as it looked. A girl chased a pink umbrella; it tumbled away from her across the ground, turned inside out.
Amanda took a shortcut across the grass but soon regretted her decision; her feet squelched and her suede boots became splattered with mud. The rain was almost horizontal and soaked her jeans, too. She pulled the toggles of the raincoat, drawing the hood over her face so that only her deep blue eyes and the tip of her delicate nose were visible.
Passing by the diner, Amanda looked through the steamed up windows; it was packed inside.
She stopped dead. Amanda put her face up against the glass to be sure of what she'd seen: Rachel Fox eating breakfast with a corpulent, older man. It was Kevin Bolder from Academic Records. A Pearl Jam t-shirt stretched over his immense stomach; he gorged on pancakes while Rachel chatted, exuding her warm smile.
Unseen, Amanda turned away with horror. Something offended her about the sight of the beautiful Rachel breakfasting with the monstrous Kevin. Breakfast? Amanda winced. Surely she didn't...no...she couldn't have!
Amanda headed to the warm sanctuary of the coffee shop. As she queued for a latte, her thoughts raced: Kevin Bolder. Academic Records..... Her exam paper! It was the only explanation.
Five minutes later Amanda emerged back into the squall, coffee in hand. She hastened along as the outside of her hand froze and the inside boiled. Her other hand unzipped her raincoat pocket and took refuge. Rummaging inside, she felt a curious flat, square object through the lining of the coat - but was unable to reach it. The object was zipped in the inner pocket; Amanda resolved to find out later what it was.
Ahead of Amanda, a solitary figure walked towards the Classics building. The person had her back to Amanda and wore a bright red, hooded raincoat. Amanda shuddered from a momentary flashback to the movie Don't Look Now; but this figure was tall, wearing jeans and boots under the red coat. A sixth sense told Amanda that it was Rachel.
The red-coated figure disappeared through the door. Amanda had no especial wish to catch her up, so slowed her pace. By the time she reached the notice boards, she was alone. She scanned the results:
RACHEL FOX A-
AMANDA JONES A-
Amanda sighed with exasperation: even with the same score, Rachel had an alphabetical advantage!
As she entered the seminar room, Amanda searched for an empty seat; she realised with discomfort that the only one was next to Rachel. Her rival avoided eye contact and ignored her as she sat down; Amanda felt emboldened.
"Rachel, I know your secret," she half-whispered.
"What secret?" Rachel froze.
"Kevin Bolder," Amanda said with quiet distaste. "Glenn will be terribly jealous."
"Ha," Rachel snorted. She seemed relieved. "Are you spying on me, Amanda? It's rather sad, don't you think?"
"Kevin gave you my exam paper. You realize he could be fired?"
Professor Coe entered the room; the conversation was over.
The seminar passed largely without incident. Amanda and Rachel both maintained cool exteriors.
Amanda felt happy with herself for confronting Rachel. She'd made her point about Rachel's plagiarism and monopolization of the books. She felt a burden lifting from her shoulders: perhaps this was the end of it.
When her turn came, Amanda read from her essay with confidence, describing Mayan burial rituals to the class and fielding questions from Coe and the students. By her side, Rachel remained passive, writing notes until it was her turn to present.
Rachel read from her paper. For the first time, she'd answered the same essay question as Amanda. Her slant on the answer was somewhat different, though interesting, and it seemed to Amanda that this was Rachel's own work. Indeed, maybe she knew something after all. Her essay drew a contrast between male and female burials: Mayan queens being scarce in number.
"The greatest honour of all, reserved for Mayan kings only, was a golden death mask," read Rachel. "One can see an example, the mask of Shield Jaguar II, in our own Peabody Museum."
Amanda recalled Rachel's interest in the mask, and wondered whether she'd chosen this example to ingratiate herself with Professor Coe. She leaned back in her chair and listened with suspicion as Rachel went on:
"Shield Jaguar's queen consort, the Lady Xoc, is considered one of the most powerful and prominent women in Maya civilization. Her tomb is in Yaxchilan. Her death mask, recovered from Structure 23, was fashioned in jade, not gold - indicating that a golden mask was an honour reserved for kings alone."
".....except that's not the tomb of Lady Xoc," Amanda interrupted.
Rachel put her paper down and took a deep breath, sighing softly.
"Would you care to enlighten us on your theory, Miss Jones?" Professor Coe inquired, excitedly: either the topic, or the clash of his top students, had piqued his interest.
"The tomb in Structure 23," Amanda explained, "is that of Lady Eveningstar, the second wife of Shield Jaguar II."
"And your evidence for that is...?" Rachel spoke in a measured voice, looking not at Amanda but down at her notebook.
"Her name is written on the lintel above the door," Amanda said calmly, "as any expert in hieroglyphics can tell you."
A brief murmur rippled around the room.
"And what of Lady Xoc?" asked Coe.
"Her tomb has never been found," said Amanda. "It's likely to be in the outskirts of Yaxchilan - probably in a hidden cave system."
"And why a cave?" the Professor was pacing again, staring upwards; of course, he knew the answer.
"Caves represented the underworld. Cave burial was considered a great honour for a select few. Many tombs found within nine-stepped pyramids have artificial cave features inside: stalactites and stalagmites," Amanda concluded.
The Professor stopped, enraptured. Amanda couldn't tell whether he was genuinely interested in the ceiling or had actually turned into a statue.
"Excellent," whispered the Professor, finally cutting the silence. "Please all collect your essay questions and reading lists from my desk; you may go."
The room cleared, and a minute later Amanda stepped out into the blustery weather. The rain had stopped but the wind had intensified. The sky was dark, and thunder rumbled in the distance; further rain would not be far away.
As she hurried to the next class, Amanda was unaware of the hooded red figure gaining on her.
"Amanda!" called Rachel. "Wait!"
Amanda looked over her shoulder to see Rachel catching up - her hood blew back to reveal golden hair, which the wind wrapped around her face.
"Stop! Amanda, stop!"
"What do you want?" Amanda kept walking as Rachel drew alongside her.
"I'm sorry! You got me, OK?" Rachel pleaded, putting her hand on Amanda's arm.
Amanda stopped and took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry I used your exam paper," said Rachel. "I was getting nowhere on the questions, and I knew you were a hieroglyphics expert.... so I got hold of the exam papers, and yours was brilliant. I had no idea that Coe would make me read it out!"
"So you thought that if I never found out, everything would be fine?" Amanda turned to face her. "I should take you and Kevin to the Principal."
"I know. But you won't."
"Because of this," Rachel pulled a piece of paper from her pocket.
Amanda raised an eyebrow, sceptically. "What?"
"Look... can we go for a coffee or something? Let's not do this here." Rachel glanced warily over her shoulder.
"Coffee? With you?" Amanda sighed, shaking her head. "I can't...I have Research Methodology now."
"OK, have it your way." Rachel looked hurt. She unfolded the piece of paper and thrust it under Amanda's nose.
The paper was a photocopy of a stone tablet or, more specifically, a tablet fragment. It was etched with rows of tiny, Mayan hieroglyphs.
"Where did you get this?" Amanda's eyes widened.
"Can you read it?" Rachel allowed Amanda to take the paper from her.
"Do you have the original? The stone fragment?"
"Amanda what does it say?"
"I need time." She squinted at small details as the paper flapped in her hand.
"How long?" asked Rachel, impatiently.
Amanda looked at her sidelong and frowned. "Why should I help you anyway?"
Rachel shrugged: "Because you're interested? And, despite this tough act, you're a nice person. You like to help people, Amanda. Remember the museum?"
Amanda could barely take it in; suddenly she had Rachel just where she wanted her! Deep down, however, she knew Rachel was right.
"OK," she said with resignation. "Give me until next week."
"Thank you." Rachel fixed Amanda with her crystal blue eyes and squeezed her hand.
The two parted, but Amanda did not go to Research Methodology: she headed straight to her dorm, staring all the way at the crumpled paper. The first hieroglyph was unmistakeable: Lady Xoc.
And that wasn't all: the other half of the tablet was in Amanda's room.