Excerpt From Whiteout!
“So you want to know about the yeti?” said Nick, savoring the look of surprise on the man’s face.
“Yes,” said Winston, the portly man sitting opposite him. Clearly, he thought there was going to be some sort of conversational foreplay before they came to that topic. Nick had never been one for small-talk, and in the years since he had been back, the yeti seemed the only thing that interested people anymore. It also garnered the unexpected perk of free drinks, which he didn’t mind.
“And why exactly is that?” Nick asked.
“The subject is fascinating,” he said excitedly. “From the moment I first heard the rumors, I knew that I would have to get the real story from the source.” He leaned back expectantly, causing the buttons of his freshly-pressed shirt to strain from the size of his girth.
Nick thought Winston looked more prepared to attend the opera rather than swap stories with a monster hunter. With his neatly trimmed moustache and patiently combed over white hair, Nick doubted that he had even so much as encountered a gremlin, let alone anything of substance. Just what exactly do you want with a yeti anyway? There’s nothing to be gained on that mountain apart from frostbite and blood.
Nick’s concentration was broken by the appearance of an austere butler carrying a tray of steaming tea. Winston thanked the man and took the cup. Before Nick had time to ask for anything, the butler had slipped away.
“Sprightly man, isn’t he?”
“Yes, quite,” Winston said, taking a sip of his tea.
“Don’t suppose he does drinks?” Nick’s eyebrows raised hopefully.
“Oh, yes, of course he does.”
Silence fell as Nick waited for an offer that would never come. He grimaced at the hideous odor wafting from Winston’s tea. Smells like llama piss and probably cost more than he paid to find me.
Winston watched Nick intently, like a toad hunting a juicy fly. “Well then, will you tell me the story?”
“It’s a long and ugly one…” Nick looked around for the butler, who remained absent.
“Yes, of course. So you’ll tell it?” Winston’s eyes looked eager, like a child expecting to receive sweets.
“Are you a climber?” Nick asked, moving the subject away from the yeti. “I saw a few pieces of climbing gear on the way in.”
“Well, I dabble, but never anything…”
Nick stopped listening. You look like you have trouble climbing out of bed, much less anything that even closely resembles a mountain. I bet you’ve never even been above 15,000 feet outside of an airplane. Nick found himself staring at Winston’s gut once more, wondering how long it would be before his shirt gave way like a decrepit dam. The thought caused him to shudder.
Winston continued to talk despite the glazed look in Nick’s eyes. “But Kilimanjaro really isn’t that difficult if you’ve got the proper guide.”
The conversation drew once more to awkward silence as the man waited for Nick to respond. “Oh yes, and you must watch out for the hominids up there as well; quite dangerous when they get into a pack,” Nick said, allowing his mind to drift to the many decorations that had been plastered on the walls.
Every inch of the mansion they sat in agitated Nick in some way. The arm chairs were too plush, artifacts from different cultures were spread around the room in a fashion that had no discernable pattern, and above all, the man was lazy, circuitous, and rich. Even the winding lane leading up to the ornate doors had been adorned with artifacts so at odds culturally that Nick thought they were more apt to start a holy war than be considered tasteful. In a different time, Nick might have idolized his wealth, but recently, he had been searching for more in life.
“Well, the hominids didn’t really trouble us much…”
Nick grew frustrated with the lack of proffered drink and cut him off. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I was told that you were interested in hiring me, but if the yeti story is all you want, then I’m out of here.” Nick stood up from his chair and began searching for the door. There’s just no room for respectable monster hunters anymore. They all just want the spectacle.
“I can pay you,” said Winston, stopping Nick in his tracks.
Nick may not have necessarily wanted to be rich, but his pockets were also a tad light, trending towards empty, and the pub around the corner was not cheap. He looked back at the man’s face again. A wave of familiarity struck him, but just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.
“Five-thousand for the story, beginning to end. I won’t publish it, I won’t record it, I just want to hear it.” The man sat back in his chair, hands folded across his lap. An expression of victory quickly spread across his smug face.
“Five-thousand for a story? You must be some kind of bored.” Nick lowered himself back into the chair.
“I’ve heard the tale second-hand so many times that it seems foolish not to hear it from the man himself. I have complex interests, Mr. Ventner, and you have piqued them.”
Complex interests, complex carbs, maybe, but your interests are provincial at best. The only real complexity Nick could see about the man was the series of bands that miraculously kept his clothes attached to his body. A little spectacle never hurt anyone. Ah, he would have wanted it anyways. Fortune and glory, remember?
“Well, your money has piqued my interests, but there’s one final condition.”
“What is that?” Winston asked eagerly.
“I’m going to need that drink.”