Kansas loitered halfheartedly through the pages of a Medieval torture manual. He is in an ornate waiting room, his uncomfortable spit-shined shoes pressing into the crimson plush carpet. Exotic plants cascaded from heirloom shelves and peered from corners.
He looked around the room, touching upon a massive Pollock painting for a moment before gazing distastefully once more at the strange manifestation extruding from behind a Lady Palm. It had disturbed him from the very moment he was escorted into the office by the butler.
Kohled eyes peered through the eye holes of a tribal mask decorated with yellow and electric blue outlines containing sprays of fuchsia and gecko green designs. Similarly coloured feathers fanned out from its head. It was wearing a bathrobe patterned with vibrant psychedelic tessellations. Elmo slippers adorned its feet. He had never seen a mannequin so tasteless.
Kansas began to doubt the decision to come. The Lord of the Manor was most decidedly a madman. But then he was desperate for funding. Nobody believed the facts as he saw it, and dismissed it as an eccentric project within an extraordinary resume. As Kansas stared, the mannequin seemed to blink slowly. "Mr Rhodes, I presume?" it said.
Kansas yelped, and by long honed instinct, hurled himself backwards, his gun hand flashing to his hip. He hit the plush and rolled behind a Victorian chair, remembering one did not usually bring firearms to appeals for funding. Strange, high-pitched laughter filled the room. Kansas searched frantically for a weapon, and spotted a vase. He leaped for it and, filling his hands with its ancient lacquered surface, hurled it at the masked marauder.
A screech burst forth from its coconut husk mouth as it juggled the priceless vase, teetering here and there, before finally placing it gingerly onto its pedestal. It flung its mask off and draped itself on the high backed desk chair. “Jesus Christ, Mr Rhodes, can’t you take a joke?” the man said, sticking a dainty cheroot into his mouth and sparked it with a stainless steel lighter.
“Julius Wilding, at your service.” The man stretched a hand over the elaborate oak table towards the visibly shaken Kansas Rhodes who took it along with a faceful of smoke. “Sit, Mr Rhodes, I did not order the finest ergonomic chairs so my guests would stand stiff-backed next to them while they begged me for money.”
Kansas slammed a battered satchel onto the desk, sending a cloud of dust, a little bit of Egypt, a little bit of Angola, mingling with the exhaust of Julius’ cigar. Funding or not, be damned if he was going to let that rich brat push him around!
A commotion sounded from the door. Kansas thought it sounded like elephants trumpeting. He took a large notebook filled with scrawled notes and clippings and slammed it onto the satchel. Julius huffed and puffed, the blue smoke pooling around his guest’s fedora hat.
“The cradle of civilization.” Kansas’ finger pinpointed Africa on the torn, flimsy map he had unfolded across the desk. Julius bent into a L and, burning a hole into the Arctic Circle with his cigar, murmured appreciatively at the status of the explorer’s fingernails; they were well kept for an adventurer.
“There is an underground cave system,” orated Kansas, “of non-natural origin. The interior was hollowed out thousands, perhaps millions of years ago. Using just stone tools, if you can believe it! This vast space—I call it the Lithic Cradle—became what might be the first bona fide city in the history of humankind. The Lithic Cradle, not Mesopotamia.”
Kansas was now pacing, and, lost in the reverie of his obsession, he was also lost to the fact that Julius was right behind him, matching him pace for pace. “It is there, but nobody believes me. It contradicts everything in the history books. History be damned, I say!”
“That’s funny, considering you make your money off history,” breathed Julius into Kansas’ neck. Kansas jumped, returned to the moment, and faced Julius who was puffing placidly behind his desk, radiating an aura of innocence. More noise emanated from the door. Kansas, with his experienced ear, divined a pack of capuchins. He shook his head and withdrew the book from under the map, opening it to a much thumbed page.
He started making retching noises. “Not on the carpet!” Julius grabbed the Ming vase and clutched it at his guest’s face, muscles straining to distance it from himself as much as possible. Kansas stopped speaking, staring at Julius incredulously. “It’s just the language, an ancient dialect spoken by a handful of people in the world, and it belonged to—”
Losing interest, Julius sighed dramatically. “For a moment I thought the cats were at it again.” He rolled his chair to the window and peered through the drapes. “Is it a full moon?” When he noticed Kansas’ uncomprehending face, he said, “I have tigers.”
A cascading tintinnabulation of crackling, exploding crystal came from the door. Julius sprang to his feet. “There goes the chandelier! Ye cats, I knew I shouldn’t have invited the Cowboy!”
“Mr Wilding, please—”
“As in okay, I will fund your fool’s chase, Mr Rhodes.”
“Promise you won’t be asking w-who next. I am doing this because I am a filthy rich degenerate and it amuses me to do so.”
“I don’t know what to say, but tha—”
“You and everybody else! When do you want to do this?”
“As soon as possible!”
“Great! We leave tomorrow morning!”
“Surely your vocabulary isn’t that limited, Mr Rhodes. You heard me correctly. The life of a high-faultin’ socialite becomes quite tiring.” Julius blew a smoke ring. Laughter pealed from the door and there was a series of crashing and banging noises. “All these dreary parties. My blood simply screams for some excitement.”
He raised a brow as he watched the expedition of Kansas’ jaw towards the forested regions of his sternum and continued, “This is the only condition of our agreement, my friend, and if you can live with it, please... call me Julius.”
He kicked off his Elmo slippers and snapped off his bathrobe. Kansas found his faculties intact enough to cringe. “What do you think?” asked Julius, modeling the tight French maid outfit that adorned his medium frame with a twirl. He spit into his fingers and smoothed his Groucho Marx 'stache. He stepped into high heels with practiced ease and ushered the stunned Kansas towards the door.
It spread open majestically and magically to a scene of chaos. “It’s always Mardi Gras here, baby,” winked Julius. “Now, go, enjoy the party! We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow!” Julius dived into the fray with aplomb, gollowed by a trail of thin blue smoke, and the intrepid explorer Kansas Rhodes was left gaping.
What have I gotten myself into? was his last thought before a wine bottle came careening on a trajectory of destiny from a drunken gesture on the staircase to connect with his temple.
“What have I gotten myself into?” asks the filthy rich degenerate magnate and heir Julius Wilding. “Yoo-hoo, anybody there?” Julius shouts into the gaping mouth of Kansas Rhodes’ extraordinary find. He twirls his parasol and sips from his flask of vodka water. His silk suit is scuffed, and don’t ask about his shoes! He isn’t sure if it was a good idea coming here and all. Should have at least brought the damn butler. “Yoo-hoo?” he tries again down the dark gullet.
Sighing, he stalks to the tent Kansas had erected and grabs a flashlight. He didn’t understand why Kansas insisted on a torch when he could have had this fine waterproofed Maglite that could double as a club in a bind. The man probably harbored romantic notions from watching too many movies as a child. He was quite convinced he was within the clutches of a madman. Snake meat! He shudders at the thought of last night’s dinner. On second thought he takes another flashlight. And a pocket knife.
Quivering slightly, he descends the bone white steps that lead into the Lithic Cradle, crying “Yoo-hoo?” every other minute.