The “Al Andalus” night-club in Tangier was dark, smoky and crowded. Coloured lights flashed and a heavy bass boomed from the dance floor. Indigo Brown sat, relaxed and casual, at a round table to one side, his tattooed arm over the back of a rickety chair, surveying the scene. The black ink hinted at mystery beneath his dark skin. The party at the next table was rather rowdy, with swarthy looking men jumping up and down, waving their arms around heatedly. There was a girl with them, trying to look nonchalant in her tight-fitting, white silk dress. She was vaguely familiar and very good looking; blond waves rolling down to her shoulders, full red lips pouting, and beautiful eyes open wide, with fluttering lashes. It was hard to tell with all her clothes on. She glanced occasionally at Indigo, who pretended not to see her, though he felt a little over-dressed in his jeans, open-necked shirt, leather jacket and trade-mark felt hat pulled low over his eyes. He should at least have shaved.
He was tapped on the back by a tall figure in a white suit, with long flowing white hair, who sidled around and sat in the cane chair opposite. It was the contact he had arranged to meet here a few days ago. The deceptively youthful looking man smiled disarmingly, white teeth sparkling across his face between full lips, a trim silver-grey moustache and neat beard, which waggled slightly as he spoke.
“Noisy in here tonight, Mr Brown,” he said, laconically, and melodiously.
“It’s usually like this. You get used to it!” Indigo replied, leaning forward to hear better and gain some privacy. “What did you want to see me about? I trust it’s important, I’m in the middle of a very interesting dig in Rabat, before it disappears under the sea.”
“Oh, this is much more important and interesting.” said the bearded man, who Indigo now knew to be The Founder. “But it is a special mission, for me privately. I don’t want this reported on the Web, or to the Oodles Corporation, but you will be paid ten times your normal fee.”
Indigo leant closer, very interested now.
“There is an artefact, some 70,000 years old, in the Rift Valley, near to the famous Olduvai Gorge, which I want you to retrieve. It’s not difficult; it should be in a cave, which I have marked on this map.” He pushed across a folded piece of paper, surreptitiously; he obviously didn’t want anyone on-line to get wind of this.
“You will be taken there by private plane, and when your mission is complete – if you complete it – it will be there to bring you back again. This is a special homing device,” he said passing across a small parcel, deftly sliding it under Indigo’s hand. “Don’t lose it, or you will die of exposure. And don’t broadcast your position at any time!”
Indigo raised one eyebrow, “Payment?”
“Half is already in your account. The rest will be paid when I have the artefact safely in my hands. Now I must leave you!” The Founder silently rose and disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.
Noticing a rise in noise levels at the next table, Indigo quickly stuffed the map and package in an inside pocket of his jacket and got up to leave as well. Everybody seemed to be getting up. A fight broke out between two Moroccans at his side. He noticed the girl; she was looking worried, if not actually scared. “Oh no!” he thought. “Here we go again!”
But before he could do anything, all hell broke loose and he was hit over the head with a bottle. He sank to the floor, dazed.
The next thing he knew was being carried over the shoulder of this apparently athletic young girl, out through a rear exit and along a narrow, filthy alleyway. She dumped him unceremoniously on the ground, his back leaning against the wall, and roughly jammed his hat on his head, bending down his ears.
“Careful! That’s my best hat!” he muttered, petulantly. “Say, would you like to come on a trip with me? I could use some muscle! I’m off to the Rift Valley, early tomorrow morning!”
“Well, I thought you’d never ask! I think my time here is done. Lead on Mr . . . ”
“Brown. Indigo Brown. But my friends call me Indy! Hey! Didn’t I see you at Silvio’s party last week, screwing that guy covered in black plastic? Who was that?”
“Some big-shot,” replied the girl. “Reckons he owns some airline company and half the world! I think he said he was the fuckin’ finder, but I couldn’t hear him properly.”
“Oh, incognito, hey? And by the way, can I have my whip back, if you’re coming with me.”
“OK, Mr Brown, let’s see where you lead to!”
Obviously a girl hard to get to know, but up for anything, he thought. But first he would have to get those clothes off; they were not best suited to scrabbling about in a desert valley.
“Is your hotel near? Do you have some more suitable apparel and equipment? Are you prepared for a five day trek in the bush? What’s your name, anyway?”
“Yes, yes, yes!” she replied, exasperated. “Let’s just get a move on. They’ll be looking for us soon! Oh, and it’s Jacqueline . . . Jacqueline d’Arcy.”
– o –
Twelve hours later, they landed on a makeshift runway in Tanzania on the red, sandy soil, cleared of scrub. They grabbed two rucksacks and a tent-bag, jumped out of the tiny four-seater plane and ran over to the side of the strip. The plane took off again immediately, leaving them stranded, with not a soul around. “Man, it’s hot!” thought Indigo. “Almost as hot as she was last night!”
They set up camp amongst the barren, heat radiating rocks of the Olduvai Gorge. It was so hot, Jacqueline climbed into the low tent and began to take off all her clothes, so he pulled his hat low, took out the map, and looked about for a cave, the cave that The Founder had told him about. It was much too sticky for anything else at this time of day.
When he got back, in the late afternoon, she was asleep inside the tent, completely naked and lying on her back, her arms and legs akimbo, perspiration rolling down her breasts and tummy.
“Wakey, wakey!” he shouted, rudely planting a kiss on a tempting nipple. “We had better move camp up into the cave I’ve found. It will be dark soon, and very quickly. Then it will be too cold to stay out here!”
“I was having such a lovely dream!” she sighed. “About a man I once knew who didn’t stop for such domestic arrangements.”
“Later, my flower! Get dressed and move. It will be much more comfortable up there.”
After a very comfortable and at times rather hectic night, they awoke to prepare coffee and bacon in the mouth of the cave, the morning sun slanting in and lighting up the very back of the cave. Sloughing off their dazed bleariness, they began to explore.
They soon found evidence of ancient human habitation, probably small family groups.
There were paintings of a journey on the walls of the cave; past or future, they could not tell. They pressed on further back into the dark recess.
They came to a low arch in the rock, pitch-black beyond.
“We had better be careful,” said Indigo. “This is always the point where something nasty happens!”
They cautiously edged through the narrow opening and, almost immediately, a round boulder rolled behind them, cutting them off from their camp, light, warmth and equipment. Fortunately, he had a torch in his shoulder-bag. They pressed on, hoping to find a way out. There were various hazards: snakes, bats, spiders, underground lakes.
Ugh! He hated spiders! He kept his hat on at all times.
“Don’t be afraid, Indy! I’ve seen it all before!” said Jacqueline, nonchalantly.
Well, that’s progress he thought. At least they were on first-name terms now!
They reached a cavern, deep in the mountain, that could not have been seen by human eyes since the figures of the ancient huntsmen and animals were drawn on the walls, and the people left on their epic World journey, 70,000 years ago.
There was an altar in the middle of the cavern, and on the altar, to Indigo’s and Jacqueline’s startled surprise, a round, symmetrical shape lay beneath layers of red dust, untouched for thousands of years. Indigo brushed his fingertips over it, and a metallic gleam glistened in his torchlight. The object was a small, shiny, titanium cylinder with rounded ends. It looked as though it could be unscrewed. Indigo gingerly lifted it from the slab of rock, but the ground immediately fell from beneath his feet and he threw the cylinder to the girl. He rushed feet first down a shaft, bouncing off the rough rocky walls, into an underground river. It was cold, but flowing; there must be an exit. He shouted to Jacqueline, telling her to climb down, with the cylinder. Which she did, expertly, of course.
They waded in the direction of the stream’s flow, eventually seeing light ahead, and finally emerged into the dazzling sunlight again, under the very peak of Mount Lemakarot looming over their right shoulders. They splashed along the shallow, clear stream, which discharged into the dried-up Lake Magadi in front of them. The evaporation was almost immediate, and the mud was steaming.
They hunkered down at the side of the stream and Indigo unscrewed the lid of the cylinder. A roll of paper fell out. To his shock and disbelief, it was headed with the “Oodles” logo, dated with last week’s date, giving them directions to a safe spot where they could be picked up.