IN THE GENTLEMEN’S LOUNGE ABOARD THE HER MAJESTY BLIMP – IN AIR
Mr. Higgins sits on a plush sofa in the ornate sitting room. Cigar smoke hangs in the air near the ceiling. The tinkle of brandy glasses can be heard as a few men mingle in the background. Seated across from Mr. Higgins is a tall slender man with long fingers and a thin mustache. The man is smug. Mr. Higgin’s expression is deferential, but also sullen which he does not seem to realize. He is clenching the recorder.
“Expedition to the Americas: tape one, entry six.”
The man laughs, it is a high giggle laugh.
“Come, come now dear chap. Why all the mystery? Expedition to the Americas? We all know you have a big one. The way old Canterberry was strutting around after you saw him in the editorial office was enough to send the entire Society abuzz. Spill the secret, we are after all their two best officers.”
Mr. Higgins’ chest swells at the compliment. He hesitates and shakes his head.
“I am here with Mr. Donald Buffurt to compare notes on a tragic expedition in which the society lost a fellow Naturalist, the search for the Mongolian Death Worm.”
Both gentlemen bow their heads. Both seem genuinely affected.
“Such a shame. A more promising young man there never was. Why young Leon reminded me of myself at such a young age. With the exception of his poor French mother, but he really pushed beyond that limitation. It helped his father was such a asset to English society. The young man was so full of tenacity and courage. He was Royal Society material of the truest sense.”
Mr. Higgins stiffens. It is clear he is insulted.
“Of course, many of us are true Naturalists, no matter what our backgrounds. Leon Conner will be remembered in our hearts with the upmost respect. Now, Donald, this is the seventh expedition to track the Mongolian Death Worm that has come back empty handed and the third to come to a tragic end. I shall state for the record, yours was the second expedition.”
It is Mr. Buffurt’s turn to take insult. His eyes narrow and he leans back in his lounge chair, stroking his thin mustache. Mr. Higgins is smiling as he holds the recorder closer to Mr. Buffurt.
“Yes, indeed my expedition came back from Mongolia without the evidence we sought. It was however beyond our power to continue on. The Mongolian Death Worm, as you are well aware, lives deep in the Gobi Desert. At the time of our expedition, there were some great wind and sand storms, creating an environment so inhospitable, even the Mongol natives were unwilling to travel with us. We pushed on anyway. Weeks later we were rewarded by catching sight of the creature, but all of the sand stirred up in the air had ruined our equipment, so we were unable to capture the shot on film. My team was severely dehydrated at that point, so I felt it was better for the good of moral that we return to civilization.”
“You were remarkably well-bodied upon your return. I remember being impressed with your ability to heal so quickly from such a trial.”
Mr. Buffurt blushes and fingers the earring dangling from his left ear.
“Yes, well I am lucky in that respect. I noticed you also had a quick recovery from your failed journey to the deep seas in search of the Giant Squid.”
Mr. Higgins looks down and fiddles with the recorder. The rest of the men in the room are now gathered around the two sofas, looking on. Both men realize they have an audience and straighten.
As we were saying, the hunt for the Mongolian Death Worm has proven to be one of the most deadly. The Royal Naturalist Society is one of the few societies in the world who have funded the search and by far the most numerous times. Tell me my fellow Naturalist, why do you believe this is the case?”
“Thank you fellow Naturalist, your question is a pointed one. The Mongolian Death Worm is reported to be a bright red, two meter long, spitting worm. It is said to be deadly from the emission of a toxic chemical from it’s razor sharp mouth that acts on the flesh as an acid.”
There is an awed murmur from the group behind the two naturalists. Both look proud.
“It is also said the Death Worm emits an electrical discharge, much like the electric eel, but at such a high voltage it can kill a human being. It is quite dangerous, because the worm burrows in the sand of the desert, unseen by unsuspecting dwellers on the surface and can kill from a depth of six feet. According to the autopsy reports on the bodies of Leon Conner and his team, the cause of death was electrical shock.”
The room is silent. Even Mr. Buffurt looks grave.
“Most important is the Royal Naturalist Society will not give up. We will honor the memory of Leon Conner and continue our quest to capture the Mongolian Death Worm. This recording will be a reminder and testament to our promise. In search of,”
Mr. Buffurt tenses in his chair. The group behind them leans in. Mr. Higgins blinks and swallows.
“Expedition to the Americas: tape one, entry six.”
Mr. Higgins mops his forehead with a kerchief. The group of listeners surrounds the two naturalists. There is a babble of questions and the cigar smoke thickens. Mr. Buffurt is distracted by all the attention and Mr. Higgins relaxes into the red velvet sofa.