(A Serialized Short-Story/Epic 1000 page Novel, yet undecided.)
As the elephant settled in the overgrown savanna reeds, Beatrice glanced back over her shoulder at Mr. Bleak. She’d noticed his grip around her abdomen had tightened and was about to question his motives when she noted his petrified expression. “Huh, it really was your first time.”
“It wasn’t yours, Madam?” Beatrice should have preferred to be called Sir. She was, after all, a knight. But she supposed she would postpone her critique until such time as Mr. Bleak didn’t look so pale.
“No,” she replied, momentarily distracted watching the parachute alight on the ground behind them. “My second actually.”
“Of course,” Mr. Bleak said. He’d only known Mrs. Beatrice Bowman- Lancaster-White for a little over a day. But somehow, the sheer terror he felt, matched by the elephant’s own anxious eyes, were absent from her.
“It was better the first time,” she added. “Prince Hajib had steadier hands.”
Really? What did she expect of a man jumping out of a plane on the back of an elephant wearing a parachute?
“Nevertheless, I suppose you’ll do.”
Do what exactly? He was beginning to wonder what had possessed him to respond to her ad in the classifieds. He had admittedly little experience as a caretaker. He’d spent a little more than a week training to be a butler, learning how to address his master, how to prepare meals, the general upkeep of a mansion, and how to assist another in getting dressed, should it be required. Fortunately, Mrs. Beatrice had not asked him to do anything of the sort. Though, perhaps, now that he’d risked his life and bruised his tailbone, he may have preferred a more typical master.
He had always imagined a comfortable life in a mansion of his own. When his job as a stockbroker had taken a horrible turn for the worse, depleting his own life savings, along with millions of dollars of client money, and leaving him walking down Wall Street with the remains of his personal desk in a small cardboard box, he imagined his dream was over. He’d hit rock bottom. And frankly, he was not sure those whose millions he’d lost would be forgiving. His life was over.
He’d needed a fortress, a place to hide out. A mansion would do. It had always been his dream to live in one, only now he’d be the hired help. He’d recognized most of the names seeking butler services from his old job, and expected most would kill him before offering him a job. But somehow, he hadn’t recognized Mrs. Beatrice Bowman-Lancaster- White among those names and so thought he would take his chances. Surely, he could be a capable butler for an elderly woman. She wouldn’t expect much of him.
He’d imagined Mrs. Beatrice attending garden parties, being a guest at social events, sitting for photos in Wealth & Riches magazine, attending dog shows with a best-in-show poodle, perhaps even knitting when no one was looking. But he’d been horribly wrong about Beatrice.
After the day he’d had, he considered walking away from the job with shattered nerves. He was going to need an awful lot of therapy, though admittedly he wouldn’t be able to afford it. Who did broke people turn to for support? He’d been so tied up in the pursuit of wealth, he had no one. And actually, if he left Beatrice’s side here in the African wilderness, he’d have a long walk. He peered up at the long white exhaust stream of an airplane that had already disappeared. Blast!
If he walked away now, the best he could hope for was death from thirst once his canteen went dry. It was more likely he’d be bitten by a poisonous snake, crushed by a wildebeest stampede, wind up food for a lion, or be shot dead by a former investor on safari. He wasn’t sure which he preferred least. Either way, he couldn’t help thinking of vultures landing around his corpse to eat the meat off of his bones. No, he would have to stick with Mrs. Beatrice Bowman-Lancaster-White for his own survival. At least she’d done all of this before, apparently.
“Mr. Bleak, what grand adventure awaits!” Beatrice said. Then tapping her fancy leather boots on the elephant’s back, she shouted, “Mush!”
That would never work. Everyone knew that was what mushers said to sled dogs, not elephants. Wasn’t it? Regardless, the elephant didn’t seem phased as it began to move slowly forward through the weeds.
<>25 Hours Earlier
“Mr. Bleak,” said Mrs. Bowman-Lancaster-White to her new candidate. “Tell me about your favorite adventure.”
Adventure? This was a job interview. What did adventure have to deal with anything? This should have been easy. He’d trained to be a butler. But he hadn’t sweat this much since he’d arrived at the office to notice that his investments had been washed away.
“I, uh,” Mr. Bleak had to think quickly. What would impress the typical millionaire? “Well, I once invested an entire year’s savings in a single corporation and saw the money triple in a single day.” It was his fondest memory. If only the stocks hadn’t plunged three weeks later when an unexpected tidal wave destroyed the J-Corp factories.
“No, Mr. Bleak, not a business venture. I want to know about an adventure.”
Mr. Bleak studied Beatrice. Her face bore wrinkles. Her hair was heavily graying. But she didn’t look tired. And though his answer hadn’t satisfied her, she was neither disgusted nor grumpy. She was disappointed, but also hopeful, curious. She wanted to understand him. Her expression made him really wish he’d had at least one good adventure to speak of. He stammered for an answer. But through all of his effort, his varied responses of “um”, “ah”, or “hmm”, he couldn’t seem to formulate any actual words.
“Oh dear,” Beatrice replied. Her expression turned to one of pity. “Mr. Bleak, why do you want this job?”
In his last job, his quest to make lots of money and live comfortably seemed the perfect answer to this question. He doubted Mrs. Bowman- Lancaster-White would be as pleased with his reply.
“Well, you’re the only applicant I’ve had,” Beatrice said. And in spite of her indications of disappointment, he caught a hint of a smile. “So I suppose you’ll do. Mr. Bleak, won’t you please go out to the limo and carry in my bags? I have some packing to do.”
He was stunned. He’d actually gotten the job? What had he said? What hadn’t he said? What had she discerned from his mess of a personality? Whatever the case, he really needed this job. He wasn’t sure whether she realized just how much.
He thought of her request as he walked out to her massive garage. The garage contained a number of typical fancy cars and SUV’s and a decent sized private jet, but also a bright orange ducati speed bike, an armored car, a helicopter, a hot air balloon, two firetrucks, an ambulance, a crane and a backhoe. Who was this woman?
“Are you sure about this, Sir?” asked a voice over the phone.
“He’s the most unusual butler you’ve ever chosen, Mr. Planchard.”
“He won’t have as much to teach you, I’m afraid.”
Beatrice thought about Sergei Rishnikov, the great animal tamer, and Francois De’parteux, the former acrobot, both having been forced into retirement by the Crownling Circus, because apparently forty was too old to perform in a circus. It was not too old for adventuring. For one was never too old for adventuring. She thought fondly of Mr. Brown, black ops, retired early by the loss of a leg to an infected gunshot wound. He’d been an excellent gardener. And a wonderful traveling companion, until his past got the better of him. She’d even employed an inventor for a while, until he struck it rich selling his idea for a global communication network called the Interweb. Finally, she thought of Remir Scheschinger, linguist and explorer. He hadn’t been her most recent butler. Indeed, she wasn’t sure she could consider him a butler at all. But he’d been her first real traveling companion. They’d seen the seven ancient wonders together. (Indeed, all seven. You can’t always believe what you read in history books.)
“Are you disappointed in this choice? He seems rather lackluster, even by the description you gave me. I’m not sure why you would want him.”
“I believe that’s the point, Mr. Planchard. You see, I have learned so much from the others. But at my age, as you well know, I find myself a need to teach it back. I was actually a little older than Mr. Bleak when I began adventuring. You didn’t know me back when I was even more drab than he is. But when I’m through, you’ll never recognize him.”
“I’m glad he meets your approval, Sir.” He breathed a sigh of relief.
“Tell me, did you secure the jewel?”
This concludes chapter 1. If you like it, feel free to share it. One more note: If you have a crazy idea for an adventure, share it in the comments, and I may well work it in.