Ruben A. Floral was sitting in a humid cabana in the Afrikaner quarter when he spied, coming from the street, an old family friend, Neil Abernathy. Neil waved to him as he entered the cabana and ordered from the boy a bit of biscuit and a brandy.
He sat down next to Ruben and discarded his helmet with a dashing flourish. He ran his fingers through his dark blonde hair. “I say, hot today.”
“Mm,” said Ruben.
Neil flashed a coy, conspiratorial smile and tapped his nostril. He dug in his back pocket for something, something that must have been quite deep because he had to lift himself to his feet and shove his knuckles in up to the wrist to retrieve it. When he sat down he had a few crumpled bits of paper that he smoothed over the counter. The boy brought the biscuit and brandy and Neil gulped it hungrily. “Now, old man, I have something for you, something that I think shall rival all your previous discoveries.”
“Pray tell,” said Ruben.
Neil tapped the creases in his papers. “Two months ago, while in the jungle, I and my crew discovered an entirely unique tribe. I know what you’re going to say—” Neil cut him off before Ruben could imply he wasn’t keen on saying anything. “Pygmies, eh? No, not pygmies. All the pygmy tribes have been discovered, haven’t they? No, something no man in the Empire has ever seen before.” He slid the topmost paper off the second and pushed the sketch towards Ruben. Ruben looked at the charcoal drawing with a grim disgust.
“Yes,” said Neil. “Quite so. Can you believe it? A completely acephalous species of man.” He pointed to the shoulders of the crude caricature of an African. “The eyes are on either shoulder and the mouth is here, right in the middle of the throat.” The young man’s eyes danced. “I’m on my way to the telegraph office right now.”
“You expect the lads to believe this, do you?” asked Ruben.
Neil frowned. “What do you mean?”
Ruben did not answer, only tapped the charcoal creature.
“I assure you this is not a hoax. I’m wiring the commander to get a photographer out here post haste.”
Ruben stared at Neil for a second more before he closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. He didn’t look at the man again. Neil stayed for an uncomfortable minute before grabbing his biscuit and exiting the cabana, papers in hand. When he’d gone, Ruben opened his eyes, dragged the man’s forgotten helmet off the counter, turned it upside down, and spat a freshet of tobacco into it.