| The Explorer's Club, New York
Author: Maxwell Granger
Date: 08-16-09 00:59
"So who's this guy we're supposed to be meeting?" Verity asked as she stepped out of the taxi and looked up at the building in front of her.
Max turned to pay the driver. "Schleppes," he said. He turned back as the yellow cab pulled away from the curb. "Omar Schleppes. Businessman. Has his finger in a lot of pies, or so I've heard. I did a bit of asking around when the message came, but people couldn't -- or wouldn't -- tell me much."
His cousin wrinkled her nose. "I'm surprised you didn't just bin it," she said.
"Let's just say I was curious," Max replied. He offered her his arm. With a sigh, she took it.
"You've dragged us all the way across the Atlantic to indulge this curiosity," Verity said. "What he has to say had better be good."
One or two heads turned in their direction as they made their way inside. The Explorers Club in New York City had been formed about thirty years earlier to promote exploration and its members' interests were blatantly obvious; more than one trophy or exotic artifact could be seen on the wood-paneled walls.
Not far away, Peter Durban made his way down the street, still in a state of mild shock. There was no way he was handing himself over to anyone else's driving here: it was ridiculously crowded. Worse than Sydney, even. And it stank.
He pushed his hat back on his head and watched as a couple entered the Club before him. He'd been worried about not meeting the dress code, but if they were just letting women in like that, they were probably eccentric enough to cope with his boots and duster. He followed them inside.
Zhu Chang-Ying Wakanda looked again at the scrap of paper and compared it to the address on the building. This was the place Professor Collins had said to come to in his letter. He had said that there was an expedition that needed a geologist and not only would it pay well it would give her a chance to "prove herself."
She HATED having to prove herself. She was good at what she did. She had been near the top of her class. However she was not only female, she was..."heathen"... not one of the pompous asses who studied geology with her.
But Professor Collins had said they wouldn't care who her parents were here.
She smoothed the borrowed blue calico dress and took a deep breath. The thick New York air choked her and as she sought to escape it by pushing open the door, a fit of coughing rushed over her.
Inside a blonde haired man sat in one of the lobby chairs crouched down over his knees fiddling with one of his shoes. “Ripper, that should do it.” Tristan Kincade said as he finished tying his new brown leather shoes for the third time. He hated wearing them but he figured he’d start off on the right foot, especially since this was going to be his first meeting with Mr. Schleppes.
Tristan stood up retucking his shirt into his cream-colored slacks and fixed the brown leather hat on top of his head. One of the few things he was able to bring over from his home in Australia. Raising his hand to his mouth the Aussie let out a breath and sniffed. Whiskey. “Shit. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped at the boozer first.” He thought regretfully then followed behind Zhu Chang-Ying, his gleaming blue eyes watching enticingly, not realizing that they were both going toward the same room.
“Me estás tomando el pelo.” the Spaniard muttered, his dark eyes following several people through the doors of the building. Gavin looked down at the note a second time and flicked the brim of his battered fedora, settling it more firmly atop his ebony curls. With a shrug, he started up the stairs himself with a low and continuous muttering in his native tongue.
"Ah, yes, Mr Schleppes party," a man said when Max stopped him to ask for directions. There was a note in his voice that made Verity raise an eyebrow. "Through the door on the left."
Verity glanced up at her cousin. "Was it me, or did he sound a little... disapproving?" she asked him.
Max shrugged. "Don't look at me, I don't know what his problem was," he said. "Come on, let's go and see what this Schleppes guy has to say."
The two made the way down the corridor. Max placed a hand on the doorhandle and as he did so, he noticed several others heading in their direction. "You here to speak to someone about an expedition?" he asked.
"That's why I'm here." Zachary Quicksilver gave the man who had asked the question a quick smile. "Seems to be several of us here for the same reason." He gestured with his chin at the room the others were entering. "I don't know about you, but this had better be worth my while. I can think of several places I'd rather be right now." He grimaced and adjusted his necktie as he followed the others into the room.
Alison made her way inside the building and now the room just behind the others. None of which that she recognized. But then why should she. Her grandfather had kept her secluded in his antique shop inventorying items in the back rooms never letting her mingle with those who brought in his 'babies' as he called them. She could tell you where each piece came from, country, year, the peoples it had belonged too. The illicit treasures always intrigued her. Grandfather had died several months ago and she had inherited all that was within his shop.
The missive from one Mr. Schleppes to her grandfather had intrigued her. He obviously wasn't aware he had died. She had asked the attorney to keep that hushed. Looking around at those in the room the thought that she was out of her league was only there briefly. She was all of eighteen but she'd be damned if she would let any of this group know that.
It was time. Time to finally meet all those he had summoned to the Club. The meeting room had been expertly prepared. Near the fireplace stood an easel draped with a cover.
In a semi circle around it was seating enough for all who had been invited. Along a nearby wall was set a large table with a large silver urn of coffee, a platter of fruit, a platter of meats, one of breads, and one of fine pastries. Fine china cups, saucers and plates were neatly stacked or arranged next to fine crystal wine goblets. In stands of iced urns were also bottles of finest champagne.
Omar stood just behind the other doors waiting to be told all had arrived. A neatly dressed man in butler’s attire now approached the very rich Omar Schleppes. “Sir, I believe all your guests have arrived.” The butler announced.
“Thank you, Sam. Please see to everyone’s comfort and needs while I see to my business.” Omar replied and the butler simply nodded taking a step to open the doors.
Sam then announced the affluent benefactor to his guests. “Mr. Omar Schleppes.”
Omar entered the room casting his gaze about to each face in turn before finally speaking. “Welcome everyone, as soon as you are all served and seated, we will begin.”
Verity's flint-grey eyes opened wide as she looked around. Whatever else might be said about him, this Omar Schleppes really knew how to put on a show, she thought.
Damn! Elena's expression was thunderous as she mounted the stairs, ascending easily despite the height of her heels. It had taken forever for her taxi to navigate the city streets and when it had finally pulled up it was obvious that she might be the last one to arrive. Gavin might have had the courtesy to wait, but no, he had no courtesy and she knew that. This was all his fault though. She really had little desire to be here, but then, it was difficult to resist invitations like the one she had tucked in the elegant purse clutched close to her chest. She found her way to the meeting room, just in time for Schleppes to make his formal greeting. Elena paused a moment and straightened her skirt, then tucked a lock of dark hair back under the expensive hat she wore. A broad smile sprinkled with a strong dose of proper embarrassment spread over her face as she stepped in, just behind the assembled group's host.
"Perdonamé," she said in Spanish. "I am so sorry. Traffic is very terrible this time of the day and I had no desire to be as late as this." Her eyes were already taking in the length and breadth of the room, as well as the measure of its occupants. Ah, and there was the delightful Señor Santos. Her smile remained fixed in place though.
Omar casually glanced over at the late comer giving no indication of recognition one way or the other. He knew there were a few here that came by way of a secondary invitation. Those he recognized, he did so by reason of photographs for only Professor Quartermaine and he had ever met in person and the elderly scholar was surprisingly absent. Those he did not he would soon rectify.
Moving toward the easel, Omar stood in front of another smaller table draped with a linen cover sheet. It obviously had various items concealed beneath it as irregular sized lumps were very evident. Seeing that everyone would shortly be finished with the current buffet items he looked to Sam and nodded. The butler returned the motion and proceeded to secure the doors on the room.
“Would everyone please find a seat here? We are about to begin the briefing.” Omar indicated the neatly placed seats opposite where he now stood. “For the sake of those who might be unfamiliar or unsure, I am Omar Schleppes. I have asked you here today to assist me in the retrieval of some archaeological items as much as to invite you along for a most interesting adventure. Each of you has been so selected based on your unique knowledge and skills to improve the outcome of our goals. As I indicated in my letter I am prepared to offer you a handsome sum or equivalent portion of that which is recovered after I have satisfied the expectations of those institutions backing this outing.”
As he spoke, Omar made eye contact with each of the company now seated before him. He always did this to better evaluate a person. It was generally in the eyes that one could see into the heart and soul of a person. While it was indeed possible, Omar himself being thoroughly adept at it, the greater populace could not hide from him through their eyes. Pausing he sipped at his own cup of strong Arabian coffee before continuing on. “What I am about to reveal to you must not leave this room as public information. So if each of you will now carefully read and sign the disclosure agreement Sam is passing out to you, we can proceed to the discussion at hand.” With that Omar then sat down in the chair next to the covered table crossed one long leg over the other and waited. He finished his coffee as he studied the reactions of his guests.
Sam bustled about to each one with the officious documents and fine fountain pens so none need concern themselves with how they would sign it once read.