Monday, March 8, 2010

The Red Scorpion, Chapter 8

SHORT STORY MONDAY

It was the Benny Goodman era in New York. In Europe the clouds of a coming storm were gathering. In Cuernavaca, Mexico, Professor Comstock is thinking about his return to frozen Minnesota.

The Red Scorpion
Chapter 8

The following morning Comstock recorded his experiences in the journal in which he’d been making notations. In the afternoon he stretched himself beside the hotel pool, occasionally plunging headlong into the deep end to slosh once or twice the length of the pool. By the time the day was spent he decided he would take the morning bus out of Cuernavaca and head north. The early leave would give him some time in Mexico City, home of the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia.

Comstock came to Mexico seeking something of which he was uncertain. When he reached the Museo he believed things were coming together for him. Near the entrance he read, “Valor and confidence to face the future is found by people in the grandeur of their past.” Comstock stood facing the sign for a long time and wondered at the power of these words. “Our problem today,” he thought, “is that we have forgotten our past.” This had been one of his original motivations for the study of anthropology when he was young and more idealistic.

Comstock squandered the afternoon studying exhibits. It was his intent to do further research on the Nahuatl and on Quetzalcoatl, but closing time cut him off. In the end he returned to the small room he had taken for the night, continuing to reflect on the Cave of the Dead and the youth who brought him there.

The next morning he found the bus station, clambered aboard a much delayed Greyhound and headed north toward the border.

* * * * *

He stood in a line alongside a building bleached white by the harsh sun. An unbearable heat had begun closing in and a layer of white dust covered everything. It was high noon. He felt he‘d been waiting for hours, but at last his name was called. His paperwork had been processed. As Comstock reached for his papers the Mexican border agent pulled them back away, indicating that something more was expected of him. Comstock already had the “tip” in his hand, which he slipped discreetly to the agent.

On the U.S. side of the bridge the bus again stopped. This time the luggage was being pulled from the belly below and set out on tables for the purpose of examination. The U.S. Customs agents took their time, opening suitcases, boxes and filling out more papers. A squat, fat man in a brown uniform asked Comstock about the contents of his little box.

“It’s nothing,” he replied.

“Open it,” the agent instructed.

The agent leaned over the open box. He had never seen such a large scorpion. In such a well lighted place the scorpion lay still as death.

“A very rare find,” Comstock said, striving to conceal any inward nervousness that might excite concerns. “I’m bringing it home as part of a research project. I am a professor at the university.” He held out a small card bearing his name and title.

“Nothing in U.S. law says you can’t bring dead scorpions across the border,” the guard said with a shrug.

Comstock hastily sealed the package as soon as he was dismissed. Within the hour the passengers had been corralled and reseated. The bus resumed its trek north. By the midweek he had reached the snow belt. At a rest stop in Iowa he called his wife to meet him in Minneapolis.

CONTINUED

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