...this story, Bing Crosby and the Interminable Da Vinci, follows the fearless adventurer in 1921. Bing searches for a quarry that he had long wanted dead, that of a fifteenth century inventor who seemed to have found a way to stay alive for almost 500 years...
1: Africa, 1921
The twenty-odd tips in Morocco led me here, and to what may have been the very end of the Earth. On the coast of Gabon, in the city of Mayonami, the ghostly footprint of my prey was said to have only recently arrived. The appellation they used was unimportant (and unnecessarily superstitious), as it changed with each port, each ruddy steamboat or putrid back wood stream. I know him as one name. It will be the one I use when I kill the abomination.
You see (as time permits only bluntness), he was born in Florence five centuries earlier and should not be alive. And, being there are few in authority with the knowledge to do something about it, I seemed to be the only one with enough gumption to do what had to be done. (Untied to any authoritative locality had its advantages in these matters.)
Having only a pocketful of lira to my name and Mayonami not a tourist destination, I pieced together accommodations as I could: spending my first night in the bosom of a small fishing boat. It was no bigger abreast than my shoulder’s width and I could only find comfort in the wet chine. My hunger was to be satisfied by small local fish that were simply salted and fried - harder than potato crisps and scraped the top of my mouth something fierce. The village was well asleep by the time the sun ducked below the nearby wall of jungle. I slept fitfully, making sure I woke up with first light.
The village was up even before me (and I before the sun even tinted the sky): their sustenance was based on fishing and export from their local farms. My “bed”, was, by my nude concierge, brusquely shaken and pulled to the river. I rose from the boat like a ghost, and feeling much like one, freeing the small knotted net that I had used as a blanket. I tipped my host with what loose change I could. He looked dubiously at the contents of his hand as I walked away.
I sauntered over to what amounted as a general store. The thatched hut had opened its wide window and a dark fellow scowled as I approached. He probably had enough of strange visitors.
He was helpful with information on an 'ancient spirit of a man' almost 'a ghost' that had blown through here yesterday afternoon (this was done in pantomime as we had no way of communicating otherwise). The old man was unaccompanied but for a 'workless cart' that pulled a 'small mountain of boxes'. He had given up some of his tooling for food (could this be a desperate measure?) before leaving into the thick brush of the east. The shopkeeper reluctantly let me examine the tools, which I pored over carefully for any sign. Not much was there, but enough to let me know I was on the right trail.
I needed pack and food for my trek into the wilds. Looking behind the store-keep I could tell he was a music buff. There sat, in pristine condition, an old Edison Cylinder with a single Jolson record to his name. (I’ll have to ask Al what he had on cylinder.) So, I requested goods solely based on a performance of an early draft of my good friend's play, Bombo. That songbook has many a song that would put the old Pharaoh himself in a good mood. Well friends, if my mood and the twenty or so villagers weren't changed in three tunes...I had my gear and three guides post-haste.
With only a dark finger stabbed towards the east did I set out. I should have felt worse, had I not, by luck, obtained a capable Berthier in Morocco. I kept the rifle clean enough – to the amusement of the guides – who felt that it was cleaner than their own children!
As I tipped the pith hat forward and prayed to my God, I headed into the jungle knowing that either one of us were not coming out alive. And, if my God were good, this walking phantom will see his rightful place below ground.
And it was not like this case did not have its own pale of treachery: he had managed to survive this long without seeing the losing side of a duel. He was a ruthless man and I'm sure he'd strike me dead as a common fly...ba ba ba bum.
Continue to part 2...