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Banto Carbon and the Prehistoric Proboscis



CHAPTER ONE. Mr. Sphincter pays a visit.

Thump. Thump. Thump!
    The intrusive pounding on the apartment door caused Mr. Carbon to
instinctively jackknife awake from a very deep sleep, and he grabbed the 45, 
flipped off the bed, and crawled into his closet. The rattling doorknob increased 
his heart rate and Mr. Carbon's formerly somnolent breathing transmogrified into 
short heaving gasps while forbidden images began to crawl into his life once again.
    They want in. They want in, the dirty, rotten….
    Mixed images from the years with SS4 raced through his head, images he
valiantly tried once again to erase forever from his tumbling mind.
    Oh, good heavens. That was years ago, before becoming an American
citizen, before this stupid work at the Museum. Jackal. Jackal has found me. At
long last we can have this out, you lousy, no good...Wait: maybe that's not
Jackal. Could be a drunk, trying to get in the wrong apartment.
    Pile drivers hammered his head. The door‘s locked. I know I locked
it. Mr. Carbon tightened his grip, but the pearl handle of the 45 slipped like
a bar of soap in his moist palm; nevertheless, he managed somehow to hook a 
finger around the trigger. The sights! Focus on the sights! If that door moves...
    The door did not move.
    On the one hand Mr. Carbon hated his 45, but on the other she gave him
comfort, for in some way she seemed to help him sleep, like those blue pills the 
good doctor insisted he take twice a day.  After he'd left SS4, he simply wanted 
the 45 at long last to rest quietly in his shoulder holster, certainly not like this.
    Thump. Thump. Thump!
    Oh no. They’re not going away.
    Mr. Carbon's stomach leapt to his throat, and he drew deeper into the
closet, laying flat on the floor with the laundry.
    Who the...
    "Banto! Come on, man. I know you're in there. Your landlord saw
you come home. Open the door. That's an order."
    Steve Sphincter is messing around again, waking me at odd hours, the
dirty son of a…. Mr. Carbon peered from the closet at his glowing digital
alarm by the bed: 1 a.m., Wednesday morning. Why’s he doing this? The
doctor told me to get plenty of rest, and try to forget...
    "Carbon! I need you, now. Let me in. Emergency."
    He slipped into the slacks draped on the chair, the brown pair worn so often to work at the Museum. Trembling, he somehow fastened a belt buckle, one decorated garishly with a serrated knife and a vial of poison. Members of SS4 had carved this disgusting buckle, and Colonel Henrik had presented it to him as a going away present. Quietly - with deliberate intensity - a ghastly, vivid vision of Colonel Henrik seemingly stepped from the closet and spoke in Mr. Carbon's head with a grating, superior sneer, saying, "Commander Carbon, the boys here - and I, of course - want you to wear this in good health for the rest of your miserable life." Thankfully, the ghostly apparition of the Colonel faded into the dark. Mr. Carbon hated the belt buckle almost as much as he hated the mere thought of Colonel Henrik.
    Why can't I get rid of this thing? he said, his hands shaking even more.
    He unbolted the apartment door.
    "Who the heck you talking to in here? Yourself? You sleep like a log, Banto. I had to knock twice. I don't like waiting."
    Mr. Carbon did not reveal his dislike of Sphincter, relying instead on what he'd somehow learned during hours of training he'd been forced to take in SS4 negotiation seminars.
    Sphincter sauntered into Mr. Carbon's apartment as though he owned
the place and in the kitchen he propped his feet on the breakfast table. A
bulbous, brown cockroach waved a few feelers and skittered off.
Sphincter's eyes followed. A beard, the same color as the cockroach, hid
much of Sphincter's worried face.
    "Got a call from the State Troopers in Anchorage about that
archeologist I hired awhile back."
    Mr. Carbon nodded.  He normalized his blood pressure with a painful
pinch to a certain nerve. "Jeremiah Irons," Carbon said.
    "Disappeared. People haven't seen or heard from him for two weeks.
He usually comes in from the dig twice a week."
    "When did he last check in?"
    "Well...about five weeks ago."
    "That didn’t worry you?"
    "Nope. He's a professional archeologist. He can take care of himself.
But the State Troopers asked questions. And the Governor’s complained.
They're all over me on this, Banto."
    "Steve, go home and get some sleep and leave me in peace. He'll
show up."
    Mr. Carbon realized he'd spoken his mind too bluntly, for Steve Sphincter's facial texture amazingly attained a putrescine tint, an occurrence always quite astounding to Mr. Carbon, but one he'd learned to accept as a simple transformation which accompanied Mr. Sphincter's common surges of anger.
   "Sending you to Anchorage, Banto. That's why I'm here."
   Sphincter slapped an airline ticket on the table where the cockroach
had rested. Mr. Carbon hated travel. He wanted to stay in Juneau, and
meditate and take walks up Basin Road, and be alone.
    Sphincter absently shoved a crumpled sheet of paper toward Banto's
    "What's that?"
    "A map, Banto. Plainly, anyone can see that. The map shows you the
trail to the dig. You find the dig, you'll find Jeremiah Irons."
    Jeremiah Irons had probably faxed the map to Sphincter over a month
ago, from the date printed on the bottom.  Looking at the map, the trail to the
dig practically leapt out at Banto as a heavy black line meandering into the
Chugach Mountains, far into a remote valley.  Mr. Carbon assessed the map. Getting to the site would take a normal person two days. Mr. Carbon could do the hike in a day and a half; specialized training had given him a particular hiking methodology that would cut half a day in travel time. But this hike certainly did not interest him.
    Sphincter kicked over a cold cup of coffee left from dinner. The
coffee soaked the airline ticket. Sphincter ignored the mess and picked
intently in his nose. He probably did not care about Mr. Carbon's mysterious
past, or the nervous breakdown -- if he knew, which Banto doubted. And
Sphincter probably sensed Mr. Carbon's preference for peace and quiet.
Surely, he could tell Banto would rather work in the dank archives with
invoices, enter them in the computer, than get sucked into trouble. And
Sphincter knew Mr. Carbon never volunteered for risky trips. He knew that
because Carbon told him, time and time again: no more hair-raising trips.
    "I'm not volunteering for this, Steve. My doctor would object. You
know that. My meditations are important to me. A humdrum, commonplace
life is what I need. No search party for me."
    Sphincter's face turned a darker shade of brown. "Do not call this a
search party. You are visiting the archeologist. He is not officially missing!
    "The Troopers implied..."
    Sphincter glared. "A missing archeologist from my project would
make me and the Museum look bad, Banto. That's why he is not missing. I
don't care what the Troopers implied."
    Carbon yawned, for Sphincter's benefit, and eyed his bed.
    "He's...uh...not missing."
    "He stayed up there longer than usual. Maybe found a few artifacts,
maybe millions of years old. Who knows?"
    "Bears live there. I don't like bears. Get someone else."
    "Make noise on the trail. Long as you make noise, they won't bother
you. Now, you leave on the early morning flight, in a few hours. A
backpack with sleeping bags and cooking utensils are already in the van."
    Carbon stretched on his bed. "I'm not going. Too dangerous. Have
your secretary go. She knows judo. And she bowls better than you. Good
night. I'm going to sleep."
    "Leave my secretary out of this, Banto. This trip poses no danger to
you. A boring trip, I promise. The visit with Irons will be like a vacation, or
a pleasant walk in the woods. Say `hi' to Jeremiah Irons. Snap a photo or
two, camp overnight."
    "Go yourself."
    "I must attend a Cabinet meeting with the Governor, Banto. When
you get photos of Jeremiah Irons, fax them here. That'll settle the Governor
down. You know how she is."
    "Not going."
    "You will go. Furthermore, when you get back, I am putting you on
two weeks suspension for failing to follow immediately a direct order. That's
    Sphincter slammed the door on the way out. Mr. Carbon felt the
comforting bulge of his 45 against his arm, but restrained himself.

To Mr. Banto Carbon, as he looked east from Anchorage along the
skyline, the Chugach Mountain range brought to mind a pod of surfacing
killer whales. And as he moved quickly and silently along the trail leading
into the mountains, memories of that Big Foot trouble in British Columbia
eight years ago returned. Why, there was a whole family of them. And that
ceremony, and the daughter of Big Foot eyeing him like that, pawing him.
She wanted to marry him. He shuddered. She’d puckered her lips, reaching
for him again, for more. He didn't want to think of that. The good doctor
told him never to re-live that incident, or fret over possible offspring, for
there were rumors of twins. He shook the memory away, and with practiced
stealth he rounded a bend. The trail angled sharply on a steep slope and Mr.
Carbon broke a sweat.
    Just ahead, something in the shadows beneath a spruce tree caught
Banto's eye. He at first thought this might be a statue or oddly shaped rock;
but a hand moved, as though swatting at something, possibly a mosquito.
This was a human shape, one that now became motionless. Focusing
intently, Banto discerned this to be a man, probably an old sourdough. The
man now sat as still as a granite boulder.
    The grizzly old man's mouth puckered, and a gob of chew flew,
landing at Carbon's feet. "How far back you going, sonny?"
    "Second valley."
    "Two days hike, unless you get bit, lose your blood."
    "Bit? Lose my blood?"
    "Every so often one of them big ones comes out."
    "Nope. Mosquitoes. They've got a three-foot wingspan. They prefer
moose. Drain off a bucket or so of blood. Fill the gawldarn moose with that
spit they shoot in there. The way I hear tell it, that slimy stuff keeps the
blood from drying so it can flow better into the mosquitoe's stomach."
    "Three foot wing span?"
    "Heh, heh. Moose usually sleeps after that. Unless he shakes the big
bug off. If the moose shakes one loose, and gets a small dose of mosquito
saliva, he goes wild, goes on a good ol’ rampage. They get power from the
injection. In small doses, that gunk the big bug shoots under the skin
becomes mighty dangerous. Every six or seven years one shows. Reason I
mention this is because I seen one a few weeks back. There's this
archeologist dude..."
    "You've seen him?"
    "Yep. He caught one. He overpowered that blood-sucking bug before
it could take off. He thawed the big lunker out of the ice in that cave he's
digging around in. Crazy dude was trying to drain the spit out its nose …
err, its proboscis, he called it. He wanted to do experiments. That was
enough for me. I just jumped up and got right on out of there. I don't want
nothing to do with no bug like that. No, sir. Gold is what I want, and a lot
of trapping. And I like blueberries and moose meat, and a little loving once
in awhile. Good loving doesn't come my way as often as I'd like, though.
Speaking of loving, you wouldn't be interested in..."
    "... you saw the archeologist in the second valley?"
    The old prospector cast sad eyes on Mr. Carbon. "He's digging in a
cave, the one under the glacier. That's a cold cave, like an icebox. He didn't
like me any more than you do."
    The sourdough's face creased in a toothless grin. Mr. Carbon could
tell this man had lived hard times. He’d apparently accepted a loveless life,
almost. The rim of his hat hung torn over one ear. He slowly stood and
stretched and farted several times, low, moaning, prolonged songs that
moose like to hear. Then, he did a lonely shrug, and ambled into a stand of
willow, off the trail, leaving a tart odor behind. Carbon listened awhile, but
he heard no more sounds. The sourdough had disappeared.
    Probably a compulsive liar, he thought. Yet, Mr. Carbon worried
about what the old man had told him. Why, he wondered did my stomach
leap to my throat? This hike, Sphincter had promised, would be peaceful,
quiet, like a vacation. And he would get docked a mere two weeks for not
immediately following a direct order. He simply needed to hike up to the
second valley. Say `hi' to Jeremiah Irons. Snap a picture. Share a fifth of
rye. Then, he’d be home free.
    Mr. Carbon worked up the trail, casting wild eyes on birds and
mosquitoes. The way that old prospector spoke made him believable.
Authoritative. That's what bothered Banto. As the old, horny dude spoke, he
had looked directly at Banto with a steady eye. He never blinked.
    And that meeting in Ar Rank on the shores of the White Nile in Sudan
flashed in Mr. Carbon’s brain. He could see the scene just as though he were
watching it on a huge movie screen. He didn’t want to see this, to re-live
this, but there it was, again playing out before him. The inside of the tent
felt like a horridly uncomfortable sauna. A plane had landed, and the secret
session would begin in minutes. Ghadaffi himself entered, and with him a
masked man in a black tuxedo. The masked man remained silent, but looked
directly into Banto Carbon's eyes through the entire (though as it turned out,
brief) meeting. Like the sourdough, this man never blinked.
    Mr. Carbon watched as the masked man ran his hand up Ghadaffi's
thigh. Ghadaffi apparently did not think that appropriate: he produced a
stiletto from his belt, and sunk the blade into the masked man's hand, clear
through, into Ghadaffi's own leg. Weapons were forbidden at a meeting like
this; yet Ghadaffi had one. The negotiations were not going well, not well at
    Steel must have covered the masked man's nerves. He never blinked,
never took his eyes off Banto Carbon. Ghadaffi noticed the blood pouring
from his own thigh. Nonchalantly, he said, "Mr. Carbon, we shall meet
again. Likely, we will meet when my thigh is not bleeding."
    Ghadaffi grandly swooped from the tent, blood spurting and sinking
into the hot sand. The masked man removed the knife from his hand.
Carbon was ready, the 45 leveled in the man's face. The masked man placed
the bloody stiletto on the table, got up, and left. Two months later, Carbon
learned that the man was Jackal. Today, the stiletto rests in a glass display
case, in the secret SS4 museum, in Saskatchewan.
    Mr. Carbon nearly vomited from the memory. Come now. Let's get
back to the plan. Where are we? What do we need to do? Yes. Yes. We're
on the trail, heading east into the Chugach Mountains. Two valleys back, to
Jeremiah Irons’ archeological dig for heaven‘s sake. Why should I let that
old prospector get me riled? Oh yes, he was telling the truth. I could see the
truth in his eyes. No doubt about that.
    I have options. First, I can turn immediately around. This is not safe.
I'll call in the Civil Air Patrol. Tell them what the prospector told me.
    No. That won't work. The Civil Air Patrol won't believe me.
Mosquitoes with three-foot wing spans, eh? Sure.
Or: I can injure myself. Fake spraining my ankle. Head back to
Anchorage, and call Steve Sphincter: tell him, I can't make the hike. Have
him send his secretary.
    No. Wrong. That'll set Sphincter off. Get in more trouble.
    There's one way to go: I must continue the hike. After all, the
prospector said he saw one big mosquito. That was a couple of weeks ago.
The big bug is probably dead by now. That means, my real worry is bears.
And Steve Sphincter said I must make noise on the trail. That way, I'll never
see one. I'll let them know I'm coming and they'll clear out.
    Carbon moved his tongue against his teeth and blew a long, haunting
    The bears knew he was coming.
    So did the tall man.

About this novella:

There are three Banto Carbon stories. This is the only one the author has published to date. Mr. Carbon is a nondescript museum employee with a secret past who is launched on a hair-raising quest into the Chugach Mountains east of Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska's Governor and the Juneau, Alaska museum director want a missing archeologist found. This is a non stop action story involving clones, prehistoric mosquitoes and evil experiments written with tongue-in-cheek humor. A thriller of novella length (81 pages).

About the Author:

ARNE L. BUE is the author of The Lid and Baxter Bog Interlude. He lives with his wife Shirley in Anchorage, Alaska


eBook version Copyright 2009 by ARNE L. BUE

ISBN 978-0-9823118-1-3

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