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  • Russell Guenther


by Russell Guenther

Thomas Billingsley was never much of a ladies man. Most people in his department at the plastic manufacturing plant joked behind his back that he was homosexual. Thomas knew this, but never said anything about it. Thomas was a diligent worker, and was thrilled that he was chosen to fly from London to South Africa to represent his company to one of their most benevolent benefactors.

Edwin Brophy was a famous big-game hunter, and an old money oil tycoon. His millions of pounds in investments toward Thomas’s employer saved him from having to fork it over to the taxman, and guaranteed him a solid long-term return. Thomas didn’t keep up with current events much, and knew next to nothing about the man. Buying a coffee at the airport stand, Thomas saw a publication in the rack featuring Brophy on the cover, and bought it as well. It turned out to be a trite gossip article from which Thomas gained nothing, and he threw it in the waste paper basket.

Mr. Rickards, his supervisor, had told him, “You’re an enterprising young chap. Find out what Mr. Brophy fancies, and humour him. Must make a good show of it.” Thomas was beginning to doubt himself. What could he possibly come up with? On the flight to Johannesburg, Thomas had two brandies to settle his nerves. He came to the realization that he was completely out of his depth. He drained the last of his brandy and tried not to think of it.

Thomas was always uncomfortable on aeroplanes, but had exhuasted his mind enough with worry that he was able to fall asleep until the landing in Johannesburg. After retrieving his luggage, he saw a man holding a sign that read “Billingsly,” without the “E”, which he should be used to by now, but it still annoyed him. Thomas put his bags down, and his spectacles dropped to the floor. He needed a new pair, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Fortunately, they did not break, and Thomas put them back in place on the bridge of his nose. “I’m Billingsley,” he said to the man with the sign. The man said nothing, just grabbed Thomas’s baggage. The man appeared to be a former pugilist, his right ear was thoroughly cauliflowered and his nose was flattened in several places. The man carried Thomas’s bags to a gold Mercedes sedan, hefting the weighty bags like they were sacks of feathers, dropping them with ease into the trunk.

"Ta,” Thomas said. “Wasn’t expecting the Royal treatment.”

"I aims to please,” the driver said, seeming to lighten up a little.

"You’re English too,” Thomas said in an awkward attempt at small talk.

"Not anymore,” the driver said. “The Queen don’t hold no love for me, and I feels the same. Best be on our way. Mr. Brophy wishes his guests be on time.” Thomas decided not to pursue conversation any further, and the rest of the trip was completed in silence.

To say Brophy’s home was extravagant would be putting it modestly. Toad Hall came to mind. Or perhaps Manderley from “Rebecca.” Why Thomas, a sales representative from a plastics manufacturer should be invited out here was beyond his comprehension, but Thomas was not about to protest. He made a move to exit the car, but the driver was faster, opening the door with bags in tow before Thomas had even reached for the handle.

"Cape cobras are out, sir. Best be careful.” The driver pointed out to the trail east of them, and sure enough, there was a terrifying black snake darting away. When the shock faded, the heat took effect, taking Thomas’s breath away. He had never been this far south of England in his twenty-eight years. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his already sweaty brow. The Benz was air conditioned to practically deep-freeze, and his system was having a hard time adjusting.

Thomas was led up the drive to a ten foot set of double doors, and made an attempt to carry his luggage when the driver put his bags down to open the door. “Don’t be daft,” the driver said, then remembered himself. “Beg pardon. Allow me, sir.”

The driver, still remaining anonymous, opened the doors to Toad Hall. The hall was already occupied by at least seventy people, but nowhere near capacity. He nodded to a man in suit and tails, who announced, “May I present Mr. Billingsley, from McMaster’s Plastics.” Thomas flushed from head to toe. A boisterous chap with a deep tan, who was obviously the center of attention approached and extended a large hand, which was disproportionate to his wiry frame, which Thomas judged about ten stone.

"Mighty nice to meet you, my friend,” he said, and gave Thomas’s hand a bone-crushing shake. “Ed Brophy. Welcome to my humble abode.” He waved a hand toward the interior of his house, and Thomas wasn’t quite sure if he was being modest, or bragging. Thomas looked up to see the most stunningly beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life descending the stairs. “Just in time for the party, love,” Brophy said. “Meet Mr… beg pardon, what was it again?” Thomas heard none of it. He was stricken by this woman’s presence. Her hair was worn in a medium length wavy bob, chestnut colored. She was wearing a very becoming gold strapless dress which accentuated her ample breasts and hips.

“Sorry,” Thomas said, adjusting his spectacles. “Lost my train of thought. What were you saying?”

Brophy laughed heartily. “Yes, you’re not the first one my Biddy has had that effect on. This is Mrs. Brophy.”

"Um, yes, yes. Pleasure. Thomas Billingsley.” Lord, what a babbling oaf I must seem, Thomas thought. Mrs. Brophy gave Thomas a smile and flashed her sparkling green eyes at him.

"Likewise, Thomas. And it’s Bethany. Please don’t call me Biddy.” She gave Brophy a glare. “Please excuse me, I must make the rounds.” Hearing her voice sealed the deal, Thomas was smitten.

"Come along, Tom,” Brophy broke in. Thomas hated being called being called “Tom.” It made him think of the cartoon cat. Thomas brushed it off for the sake of business. “I was just about to give a tour of my trophy room.” Brophy led his gaggle of followers through a hallway that was ten times the size of Thomas’s London flat. Brophy dramatically opened the door to a high ceilinged room. “Gentlemen! My pride and joy,” he said. There must have been three dozen animal heads adorning the walls of the room, but Thomas was too overwhelmed to count. Brophy was beaming, a regular Alan Quatermaine. All manner of beast were on display: wild boar, gazelle, elephant (Thomas was pretty sure this was illegal, but wasn’t quite sure how the rules down here applied), and by God, a bloody zebra. People shoot zebras? “This here, my friends, is my most prized.” Brophy gestured toward a head of a massive white lioness, mouth agape, showing impressive but ineffectual fangs. “Fought like hell, took me a while to put her down. Isn’t she a beauty?” There were a lot of impressed murmurs in the crowd, but Thomas was silent.

All manner of beast were presented at dinner as well, consistent with Brophy’s prize room. Thomas rarely ate meat himself, but didn’t want to offend his host and indulged in a slice of roast ostrich with gravy. It was actually quite delicious, and went excellent with the expensive cabernet. There was a lot of asinine business small talk in which Thomas had absolutely no interest in engaging. He sat quietly, drinking his wine, until it was time to retire to the living room for coffee and brandy.

Thomas had two large snifters of brandy, watching the others talk and laugh heartily, slapping each other’s backs, and he felt even more out of place than ever. He felt pressure to mince a bit, he was sent here to represent the firm. He started to feel a bit tipsy from the wine and brandy. What the hell am I doing here, he thought. His thoughts were interrupted by a female voice. “Dreadful bores, the lot of them,” she said. Thomas looked up to see Mrs. Brophy standing before him. He was too surprised to respond. “Care for a stroll,” she said. “Could use a bit of night air myself.” All reticence Thomas had felt went by the wayside, and he immediately rose from his chair.

"By all means,” he said. Mrs. Brophy grabbed a spare bottle of brandy from the bar.

The air in the night was still warm. Thomas said, “What about the cobras?”

Mrs. Brophy snickered. They won’t be out at this hour. Don’t be a toff.” She poured them each a large brandy. “Here’s to the great white bloody hunter, and to big business.” She touched her glass to his.

There was a bungalow roughly fifty meters away from the house proper. Thomas and Mrs. Brophy had a nightcap there, and to Thomas’s pleasant astonishment, the two ended up in bed together.

The following morning was not so pleasant. Thomas was awash with guilt, and terribly hungover. He went to the washroom and managed to urinate without falling over. Finishing, he vomited and flushed the toilet. He felt like his entire career, everything he had been working toward, was swirling down as well. He splashed water onto his face and looked at his ghastly visage in the mirror. “What in bloody hell did you do,” he said to his reflection. He then drank from the faucet for thirty seconds before coming up for air.

Thomas stumble out of the washroom, looking at the nude figure of the beautiful woman he had slept with the night before. She came to as Thomas was retrieving his spectacles from the nightstand. He tried to act natural. “Good morning,” he said. “I, um…”

"Who in bloody hell are you?” she said, looking at Thomas in astonishment. “Why are you naked?” Thomas looked down at himself, as if for the first time. “Why am I naked? You sick bastard!”

"Bethany, wait…” Mrs. Brophy picked up the brandy glass, still a third full from the night before, and chucked it at him. He was able to dodge it in the nick of time, and it shattered on the wall just above his head. He wasn’t able to dodge what came next. Mrs. Brophy seemed to transform into a feral cat, lunging at Thomas from across the room and leaping on top of him in a much less sensuous fashion than the night before. She brought the side of her fist down, smashing his glasses, then began to claw at his face with such ferocity that Thomas had to fight like the devil to avoid having his eyes scratched out. In desperation, he grabbed her by the wrists and was able to reverse position, being on top now. The fight was still in her. She was tremendously strong. She kneed Thomas hard in the groin, and he reeled to the side in agony. Then Bethany grabbed a vase from the bedside table and dropped it onto his face, a glancing blow. The vase shattered above his head on the floor.

Thomas grabbed her by the ankle and yanked it toward himself, dropping her dead center into the bedpost with a sickening crunch.

Thomas shook himself out of a stupor and paced the floor, still naked. Bethany was still naked as well, lying prostrate on the floor, appearing quite dead. He cursed himself for agreeing to go on this business trip. What in blazes would he do now? Then it came to him. “Find out what he fancies and humour him,” Rickards had said.

That afternoon, Thomas rang the bell and the butler answered promptly. “Mr. Billingsley, I see you have returned. Mr. Brophy was wondering where you were off to.”

"Yes, I regret my early departure. I have a parcel here for Mr. Brophy,” Thomas said. “A token of our company’s gratitude.” He held up a hat box, one that he had conveniently found in one of the closets in the bungalow.

"I shall retrieve Mr. Brophy. Please wait.”

Thomas did wait, in eager anticipation, and after a few minutes Brophy descended the stairs in a tracksuit. He was quite sweaty, with a towel around his neck.

"Tom,” he greeted him, “Where in hell did you get off to last night? Missed a grand party!” He turned to say something and stopped when they were face to face. “My God, what happened to you?”

"Oh,” Thomas said, bringing a hand to his face. “It’s nothing. Had a bit of a spill is all. I brought you a gift. A token of appreciation from our company.” Brophy took the hat box, looking a bit perplexed.

"Tom, you didn’t have to…” He opened the box. The green eyes that looked up at him were not so dazzling now.

"Fought like hell, took me a while to put her down. Isn’t she a beauty?”

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