IN SEARCH OF YORK
FOUND STAR APES. BELGIAN CONGO. ZAMBEZI GORGE. TEN DAY HIKE. COME NOW. HURRY.
Belson folded York’s telegram with care, his eyes roaming the far wall, where the big game trophies stared down in silence. The club was empty except for himself and the inestimable Cogsworth, the valet worth his weight in gold. Belson’s mind could only focus on three words; “star apes” and “hurry.” None of them were expected from the unflappable Percy York. Ever.
Three weeks later, Belson’s makeshift expedition force stood on a raft poling its way up the Zambezi River, the Gorge walls rising ahead as the water swirled from muddy brown to foaming white. Belson had lost two-stone weight in getting to the bloody Belgian Congo, fighting every step of the way for more speed. He was into the sixth day of the hike, ahead of schedule by one day. The constant prod of “hurry” had led Belson to use only four porters and bring only enough supplies for a two-week expedition. If York needed more, they’d have no choice but to leave the Gorge and return to port.
A day later, the Gorge was taking its toll on Belson and his porters. One had been killed in a rockslide. It took two bullets fired in the air for Belson to control the remaining men and get them climbing again. But now, night was falling and Belson knew that in the dark, he’d be left alone.
Awakening on the narrow ledge, aching and stiff from the cold, Belson found himself alone. The porters had left him almost everything, but Belson snorted in disgust as he filled two knapsacks with dried beef and fruits, some tea, sugar, flour and beans and tossed the rest, food, tools and clothing, down the Gorge’s steep face. Ahead lay a difficult climb into a startlingly-dark forest, several thousand feet above the jungle floor.
By nightfall, bloodied and exhausted, Belson dragged himself over an overhang and onto the plateau. His breath was ragged and the pain in his chest threatened to put him away for good. Crawling jaggedly, he found a large fallen tree and without bothering to check for scorpions or snakes, tucked himself against the rotting wood and passed out.
The sun was high in the sky when Belson lurched awake, his mind back in his London club, his body wracked with pain. A thin white plume of smoke rose above the treetops and Belson knew York, consummate explorer that he was, had created a signal for Belson to follow. With heavy steps and frequent stops, Belson made his way across the tangled forest’s floor towards the smoke signal. He thought of York’s obsessive search for “apes of genius, apes that match or even exceed Man as users of tools,” a search that had taken York years and cost him his not inconsiderable fortune. Belson and several dozen of Great Britain’s finest minds had helped York until the search proved futile. In the end, only Belson had continued to help. And within an hour or so, Belson would find out if his support of York had paid off.
Emerging in a rough clearing, Belson espied a modest cottage, built with rough hewn wood and thatched with heavy grasses. A small fire burned untended in front of the cottage, white smoke pluming in the still air. Scanning the clearing carefully, Belson limped towards the cottage, discretion overtaking the urge to call out to York. Hurry, he had wired, it seems years ago. That lent an extra degree of caution to Belson’s approach.
He reached the cottage door, a vertical raft of trimmed heavy branches and bound with lianas. Pushing it gently, the door swayed inward. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, Belson could make out a seated figure, white hair under jauntily-angled pith helmet. York! Belson lurched forward. “York! Are you well?” His steps faltered as he took in the…wires…leading from York’s slowly swaying head to…a large box, flickering with light.
Whirling, Belson tried to draw his pistol, but a heavy blow knocked him back as if he were a child. The huge ape leaped astride him and grabbed his throat. As his vision faded, Belson saw…heard…the ape say softly “You came in time, Mr. Belson. We so need another brain…”