‘Steady, my faithful Achates!’
The Doctor’s exhortation did little to soothe my crackled nerves and I closed my eyes as we twisted and turned, the small aeroplane shuddering its way through air thick with humidity. Peeking briefly through my eye-lids, I saw my satchel reflecting the setting sun’s red glow as I clutched it with both arms; next to me was Doctor Rick Ross, Professor of Philology at Miskatonic University and one of the great polymaths of Man’s History: a legend on the lecture circuit, a constant at the Season in London, the wooer of innumerable ladies of breeding (and a good many of those without), the ever-productive issuer of monographs, novels, studies and theories. His face was known by the world though perhaps I, his humble traveling-companion, knew it best.
Some moments after his good-natured ejaculation, I was bouncing on my cracked leather seat as the Sopwith’s tyres made contact with sweet Gaia. Dr. Ross taxied the plane towards the front of a makeshift aerodrome constructed from the tall native palm-trees, only managing to lose one of the plane’s wheels and an engine as its fragile construction crunched into the structure at high speed.
‘Look, you gotta learn to relax; for Humanity has made Aeolus his bitch! What was once the domain of but mischievous sprites and cool zephyrs, Mankind has gallantly strode forth. When I’m stressed by shit I search for a way to refocus a mind that’s powerful as fuck – such as contemplating Zen koans or sending my thanks to Bubba Kush.’
I nodded weakly as my nausea subsided, wondering who this Bubba Kush was – most likely one of the million gods of the Hindoo – as I exited the plane with Dr. Ross; and I breathed deeply of the fresh air, for my companion’s hand-rolled cigarettes, made of an odd and particularly pungent tobacco, always left me feeling as one floating adrift in the atmosphere. As I gained my bearings, I found myself agape at our welcoming-party. A colonel stood to greet us in crisp dress whites, hands on his hips and awfully near a large Wembley revolver; he was flanked by a contingent of mustachioed Royal Marines, their eyes as cold as the Pink Gin each held in his drinking-hand. Eyes narrowed and expression nonplussed beneath his sola topee, the officer shouted,
‘Dr. Rick Ross! You know, I ought to have you shot for that stunt you pulled in Khartoum. The Mahdi gathering up legions of fighters in the desert yet I’m busy for a fortnight trying calm down Raouf Pasha after you spirited away his entire harem – all so you would have company for a holiday at Monaco’s Casino Royale!’
Dr. Ross remained silent, his physiognomy blank behind his sun-glasses as the wind whipped his silk pilot’s-scarf in the damp air. My eyes flitted nervously between the learned Doctor and the Queen’s Finest when suddenly the officer smiled and held out his hand.
‘You loveable rogue, it’s bloody good to see you again!’
Dr. Ross gave a great belly-laugh and hand-shook the officer.
‘Colonel Winthrop-Sloughstershire, you had me worried; and I thought you had met your end in that Marrakech bath-house! Let’s repair to your quarters to discuss why I’ve come, I’ve received but the vaguest damn reasoning. And your men are in for a muthafucking treat; knowing how this fort was isolated as shit I took the liberty of bringing several crates of both crisp Nuvo and vinyl pressings of my own Maybach Music.’
The Colonel smiled, ‘’S’wounds, civilisation! Truly, you are a gentleman above all others. Come, this way.’
* * *
After further pleasantries concerning regional geopolitics and the baddest motherfucker to have ever graced the cinema-screen, we settled into the carved mahogany chairs of the Colonel’s drawing-room as a disc of the Doctor’s spun atop a Victrola:
Close your eyes and inhale the smoke
It’s Maybach music, the realist shit I wrote, nigga
5 ounces, take a toke
Of this Maybach music, the realist shit I wrote.
Col. Winthrop-Sloughstershire leaned back and sighed amongst a bouquet of smoke from his carved meerschaum pipe.
‘Ah! It’s like the opera of Verdi with Vergil writing the libretto – Maybach Music, mvmt. 1 is already a classic; you’ve bowled another triple wicket maiden, old sport.’ Setting down his coupe-glass of Nuvo, the officer leaned forward.
‘Now, the reason we’ve requested your presence: as you already know, you’re here at the urgent request of Her Royal Highness and the Right Honourable Prime Minister.’
‘Yeah, I got that telegram when I was doing anthropological fieldwork way the fuck out in New Guinea; specifically an ethno-musicological study of the Timbusti peoples. Their tunes have got a distressing lack of hood beats, I’m afraid.’
‘Well, we wouldn’t have called you away from your important work were it not for dire events; a fortnight ago we lost contact with our outpost up the Pandaruan River. We received several disturbing reports from them before all went silent, describing what seems to be a…,’ The Colonel paused and stared at his clasped hands whilst awkwardly clearing his throat, then continued, ‘Well, they described what seems to be a carnivorous race of Lizard-Men deep in the wild. The situation is unlike any we’ve handled before and we need your expertise; my men are barely prepared for such a rescue mission – hell, half the bloody idiots are still in hospital after the introduction of a particularly flammable brand of mustache-wax. Hearing the news you were in the region was like receiving Manna from Heaven.’
Dr. Ross contemplated this shocking information before replying,
‘Well, I already got a shitload of Victoria’s Crosses but you know I don’t need more trinkets to undertake this endeavour.’ With a smile unfurling amidst his Zeus-like beard the good Doctor asked, ‘When can we roll?’
* * *
Dr. Ross and I set out in the early morn, he in a pith helmet and suit of adventuring-chinchilla courtesy of Jacobi Press after rescuing the famed tailor’s son from Triad Chinamen; but that’s a story for another time. Our conveyance up the river was to be a small steamer and its native crew, the services of which the good Doctor had won in a craps game the previous night; he had graciously turned down Col. Winthrop-Sloughstershire’s offer of a Royal Navy patrol-boat with an escort of Marines, saying with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Shit cramps my style. You know me to do my best when left to my own.’
The Colonel seemed resigned to this preordained answer. ‘Very well then, Dr. Ross. May God speed you along your way.’
We were soon chugging up the muddy waters of the Pandaruan, flanked by dark jungle and shrieks of howler-monkeys; the days passed by uneventfully but, looking at the unbroken, untamed wilderness that enveloped us, I found myself wishing we had taken advantage of the Colonel’s offer, for there was no recourse out here, no –
Suddenly, the boat lurched and came to a stop with a loud crunch of wood. The crew began shouting as I swung my head around; the Doctor was soon on deck, what I knew to be a heavily-annotated copy of Finnegan’s Wake underarm as he attempted to calm the men in their heathen tongue. He turned towards me:
‘We’ve run into some rocks! I knew I should have taken the helm myself, you’ve always gotta drive your own whip; it seems we’re in for a…’
Just then a two-foot-long arrow, painted and covered in beads, shuddered into his book. Another grazed the shoulder of a nearby crewman who immediately collapsed and began to writhe and froth at the mouth.
‘Oh shit, this isn’t the first time Joyce has saved my life; the arrows are tipped in tili-biki poison – get to cover!’
Tune in next week for Part Two of Rick Ross and the Lizard-Men of Borneo!