My Dearest Jenny,
You know I love you with all my heart and yet, I am writing to say that I am afraid that we may never see each other again. I am currently on a merchant vessel that I boarded in Fortaleza, Brazil bound for Baltimore. Fate will determine if I am to step foot on shore. Even if I do, my freedom, or even my mere existence, may be determined by others.
I am on this floating monstrosity of rust because two days ago agents from the US government seized our plane and all of its contents. Our equipment, including logs and samples, were all confiscated at the airport in Manaus. I watched as Dr. Everett was tazed and loaded aboard a government jet.I do not know the value or importance of our discovery, or even the implications it may have on society or the planet. I do know that our government was willing to put people’s lives on the line to get it, and they have proved it. I feel it is my duty to document the details of our journey in the hope that you can make some sense as to why I am in this predicament and why Dr. Everett has been taken hostage by our own government. This portion of my journey will give me ample opportunity to do that, as I have nothing but free time for the eight day voyage. The captain has been gracious enough to hand deliver these letters to the post office in Baltimore for me, knowing I have no way to repay his kindness. All I ask is that you be careful with the information contained herein and trust no one.
I am sure you remember how excited I was last month when Dr. Everett told me we were making another expedition into the Amazon. He was more excited than I had ever seen him on previous expeditions. I was immediately suspicious though, because he would tell me nothing about where we were going or what we were looking for. He would always plan out a very specific mission on previous expeditions and would talk for hours on end until no one would listen any more. Other researchers and grad students would flip a coin, or play some other game of chance, to determine who would have to sit next to him on the plane ride to the final destination. We all knew we would get an earful the entire ride. This time he just said to pack for three weeks and round up two grad students for an all expense paid trip to Brazil. He also only gave me five days notice to arrange everything. This was the shortest lead time I have had for any of our expeditions. Previously, funding would have taken months of negotiation with the school. I started to ask about the funding but he waved me off with the back of his hand.
Tents, mosquito nets, machetes, repellent, coolers, tranquilizer gun, and a multitude of medical equipment crates that needed to be replenished were all stored in the shipping container that the doctor had the school rent. I had packed a half dozen of these expeditions in the past and they were all the same, so I knew what we would need. Hell, I hadn't unpacked most of the stuff from the last trip. The original intention was to have the container sent to Brazil ahead of us and we would have everything we needed upon arrival. That, ultimately, was a disaster that began at the port in Baltimore. The bureaucracy of just trying to get it aboard was insane. The insanity continued upon arrival in Fortaleza. We waited for two weeks trying to get the container out of customs. In the end the doctor ended up paying five thousand dollars of his own money just to have it sent back home. No research was conducted and it was a complete waste of time. The grad students did have fun with the locals though, drinking all night, which angered Dr. Everett even more. Now we use the container for storage and charter a plane. More work for us but we retain possession of all of our equipment for the entire expedition.
After my inventory was completed, I went back inside and caught Dr. Everett coming out of his office. I started to explain what I would need but I could tell immediately that his mood had changed he was looking quizzically at the floor as if deep in thought. Gone was the exuberance of four hours ago. He waved his hand in the air again as I was explaining what we needed. He just told me to continue on. I promptly left him alone with his thoughts.
Due to the short notice I knew I had to recruit two people immediately to assist with the stocking of crates and checking our equipment. My desk was tucked away in the back corner of the Molecular Anthropology Lab. I sat down and penned out a help wanted sign to post on the board in Hardin Hall. The pin had barely pierced the cork board when Beth Armstrong and Andy Gurinsky approached and read the notice from behind each of my shoulders. I turned to walk away, splitting the pair in half. I could see they were both looking at each other in astonishment.
Apparently Andy had removed the notice from the board then he and Beth moved to my side with it in his hand. I knew the two were a couple, as they were always seen around campus holding hands. Andy spoke first. He pleaded his case that the two of them were the perfect candidates for the expedition. They had both been studying primate anthropology and had planned to make the trip on their own during the summer. This way they would get paid to go. They also explained that they had already taken the regimen of shots required for the trip.
Andy was tall and lanky, with a slightly hawkish nose. He also appeared to buy all of his clothes at vintage stores. Everything looked straight out of the 1950s, right up to his Panama hat. Beth, on the other hand, was a bit more sensible, and tried too give the impression that she was a field researcher even though she had never been out of a classroom. Her khaki shorts and red t-shirt advertising an animal shelter hung loosely on her. Being much shorter than Andy, the top of her curly red head measured to about the middle of Andy's chest.
I told them to stop by Dr. Everett's office the next day to see if he approved and to work out the details if they were selected. As we were parting Beth asked what the subject of the expedition was. I told them I didn't know.She asked if I was going and I said yes. They were both pressing to understand how I could not know what we were going to be doing there. I did not have an answer but told them that we may all find out together the next day.
During the meeting the next day, Dr. Everett made it abundantly clear to the pair that expeditions into the Amazon were extremely dangerous and many untold occurrences could put them in harms way. Beth and Andy replied enthusiastically that they understood the risks and were willing to accept them. The doctor reluctantly approved the couple and requested that they go to the Dean's office to complete the legal paperwork. He would have preferred to have someone else with a little more experience in the wild but the time frame was short and he needed volunteers.
The pair were both giddy at the thought until Beth brought up the reason for the expedition. The doctor simply dismissed the question by saying that we were just going to go observe some monkeys in their own environment. I knew that was a ruse. He had always had a specific species and trait its origin he was attempting to identify. His explanation did not suit well with me but the other two accepted it unconditionally. I briefly made mention of it after the two had left but the doctor said nothing as he shot me a wicked scowl and walked away.
The three of us worked intermittently over the next few days, gathering equipment and packing supplies. We had hardly seen the doctor in the days leading up to the trip save the moments we were discussing other areas of research. I met Andy and Beth at the storage container early in the morning on departure day. The truck drivers I had hired were on time and we immediately began loading the equipment and supplies we would need onto flat bed trucks as was the usual routine. And, as usual, the drivers stood around chatting while we humped the cargo up and on. It was explained on a previous expedition that they were hired as drivers and not movers.
The process was complete in about twenty minutes. The removable sides were installed and the load was secured. Andy and Beth went back to their vehicles to retrieve their backpacks while I went back to the lab to ensure my computer was turned off and grab my backpack. I exited the lab just as Dr. Everett was locking his door. His husky six foot frame sported jeans and the classic vest with enough pockets to carry enough supplies for a month. He asked if we were ready to go. I mentioned that Beth and Andy would meet him at his Escalade. I was getting my stuff out of the car and would be there momentarily. As I was walking down the hall with him I asked, “This isn't a normal type of trip is it?” He looked up pensively as we passed through the double doors to the parking lot and told me I would find out soon enough.
The two trucks followed the Escalade and within thirty minutes we were standing beside a shiny new Gulfstream G350. I knew it was a Gulfstream G350 because it was written in big letters across the side of the plane; everyone knows I don't know anything about planes. The doctor had made this journey many times in the past. His contacts in the airports and customs made getting to Brazil almost effortless; with the exception of having to load and unload all of the boxes. He took our passports and documents into the jet terminal as the three of us determined our seating arrangements.
After about twenty minutes he reappeared around the corner of the building, accompanied by someone I did not recognize. A white SUV pulled up to the side of the flat bed just as the doctor and the man arrived. The mystery man and his accomplice in the SUV immediately began unloading crates and boxes, placing them on the ground next to the truck. There were no markings to distinguish the contents of each. The SUV was then gone as quickly as it had shown up. Handing us back our documents he looked at the three of us and told us to make sure that those boxes made it onto the plane as he turned and walked toward the pilot. As he walked away he looked at Andy and Beth and told them to make sure they kept the documents with them and safe at all times while in Brazil; not only to show to authorities, but to determine their identity if something should happen to them. Andy and Beth gave each other a quizzical look at this blunt statement. I may have even found myself raising an eyebrow in response.
The additional boxes and this type of plane were an unusual change from the normal modus operendi I was used to. It was apparent that who ever was funding this trip was attempting a nice gesture but, they were doing us no favor by providing the luxurious flying marvel. First off, packing this thing was a pain in the ass. Not everything would fit into the cargo hold and much of it had to be piled throughout the cabin. Boxes and rigs were strewn throughout every available space. A big empty plane with just enough seats for four passengers and the crew suited our needs much better. I will say, though, that once airborne, the seats were much more comfortable than on previous trips.
The pilot continued his pre-flight checkout as he and the doctor talked. There was really not much to work out inside the craft. The plane contained six swiveling high-backed chairs that formed an arc on each side of the plane with a round table in the center. Given this configuration in the past, I am sure all the passengers would have been required to sit in the opposite semi-circles and listen while the doctor extolled the virtues of our upcoming work in the jungle. Given his disposition over the previous few days I was unsure what the topic of conversation would be on this trip.
We had the seating order worked out when the captain and the doctor ascended the stairs. Seeing that we were all seated and ready to move on, the captain pushed a red button to the right of the door. The stairway began to rise and sealed us in with a slight click and hiss. The captain turned to us and gave the obligatory safety briefing. Apparently people in private jets like to get up and move around a lot during takeoff and landing. We all reached in to the plush seat cushions and retrieved the hidden seat belts. The simultaneous click of buckles emanated through the cabin as we all turned our chairs toward the front of the plane and locked them in place.
The engines whined to life shortly after the door to the cockpit was closed. The speed at which we began rolling until takeoff amazed me. We made a series of turns on different taxiways and after the final turn the captain gunned it and we were heading skyward. After about ten minutes of incline and maneuvers the captain announced that we were now free to move about and enjoy the amenities. None of us have had the opportunity to fly in this manner before so we didn’t know how to react. We all unlocked our seats and turned to face each other, not knowing what to do.Dr. Everett quickly took command of the situation. Grabbing his satchel he set it on the table and began pulling folders and papers from it.
Once airborne, he explained that he could tell us what we were seeking to accomplish on this expedition. Apparently, a previous group of researchers were deposited in a remote area of the Amazon with a little known tribe to identify a new species of marsupial known to inhabit that part of the country. They coaxed the tribal escorts to take them a small distance into a forbidden zone, thinking it was just some primitive superstition. While there, they were attacked by a strange, unidentified, species of spider monkey. The tribesmen were able to kill one with their spears and the researchers returned with the body to the US. It must have been a shock to go looking for a cute little furry creature and accidentally encounter vicious monkeys.
A series of photographs were thrown out on to the table for us to examine. The three of us began to shuffle through them. At first glance I found nothing special about them. It appeared to be a typical genus Ateles. The dark brown figure was shown laid out on a stainless steel autopsy table. From what I could guess, from head to toe it appeared to be slightly larger than most spider monkeys I had encountered. I would have guessed it to be about 1.2 m in length. Long, muscular arms and prehensile tail also distinguished it as one of the New World monkeys. As usual with the species, the hands displayed no opposable thumb but the fingers were slightly misshapen, being more crooked than curved. I then picked up a picture of the creature turned on its right side. It was the back side of the animal, taken at an angle. Two gray protrusions could clearly be seen on either side of the spine, slightly below the shoulder blades. They resembled the dorsal fins of a sea mammal such as a shark or dolphin. Each one approximately three inches long.
I looked up quizzically at the doctor as I held the photo in my hand. He suggested I keep looking. Andy and Beth were silent as they concentrated on the images. The next photograph was a facial shot of the monkey from a similar angle as the previous one, only closer. I almost fell out of my chair at the sight. The bulbous skull was normal enough but that ended below the monkey's eyes. The snout and nose of this animal appeared to be solid instead of flesh. It had a sheen that resembled the texture of a horse's hoof. Not only that, it was triangular and curved downward, resembling a beak. Two nostrils were clearly visible on the upper sides, just below the eyes.
Andy was the first one to speak. He simply asked, “What the fuck is this?” Dr. Everett simply stated that he did not know. He said that he had only seen the pictures before us a few days before. He then began to explain the course of events that had placed us here.The expedition team that brought this specimen back was attacked by a half dozen or so of these creatures. Three of the five members of the team were killed in the fight. The tribesmen killed this one and one of the team members dragged it out of the forest and hid it on the plane, carrying it out of the country.
The government confiscated it as soon as the researchers returned home and hushed up the incident. Dr. Everett explained that he was the third researcher the government contacted to attempt to capture one of these creatures alive. He had not realized this until he contacted his counterpart in Brazil. That explained why his mood changed when I encountered him that afternoon coming out of his office. The first group arrived in Brazil and refused to continue when they entered the jungle. The second group could not entice the tribesmen to take them to the place where the creature in the photographs was obtained.
I asked him what made him think he would be successful in convincing them this time. He stated that he was armed with something the previous group did not have: money. He said he had the authority to offer them whatever they wanted to go after this animal. Andy and Beth both asked why they were not offered to be paid for their part in the expedition. Dr. Everett slyly answered that they were volunteers. Andy asked what would have happened if they had not volunteered. The doctor answered matter of factly, that he would have offered money for participants. “Everyone has a price,” he said.
Both volunteers looked at each other like they had just been screwed, dropping their heads. Dr. Everett consoled them by explaining the simple truths of what they were doing. He explained that we live in a fabulous society, and that their education will give them opportunities most people in the world will never experience. Paying these people will provide a temporary sense of reward. Besides, having volunteered, it showed a sense of dedication to the effort and would provide its own rewards in the end. Andy and Beth both looked at each other again and seemed satisfied with the rationale.
I was finally compelled to ask what, specifically, we were supposed to do on this expedition. Dryly, he reiterated that our mission was to go into the jungle and capture one of these creatures alive and bring it back. He pointed to the crates in the back of the cabin and said that everything we needed was in the wooden boxes.I reminded him that it was illegal to do that but he assured me that it had already been cleared with the government officials of both countries. By that time I think he had become so obsessed with the idea of discovering a new species that he did not care about the ethical implications of what we were about to do.
The doctor finally asked if anyone had any reservations. Andy and Beth looked at each other once again and smiled. They explained that they were more energized than before and could not be torn from the project. For me, Dr. Everett has been a mentor, and I would follow him to the depths of hell. I was in for sure. The rest of the flight was uneventful as we contemplated what lay before us.
Well, my head is swimming, trying to remember the details of the early moments of the expedition. It is getting late. I will pick up this up again tomorrow. Going to the galley to grab some food.
All my love,
© Copyright 2016 Robert Fontaine. All rights reserved.