Dash and Dingo
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by Catt Ford, Sean Kennedy
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica
Description: Stodgy British archivist Henry Percival-Smythe slaves away in the dusty basement of Ealing College in 1934, the only bright spot in his life his obsession with a strange Australian mammal, the thylacine. It has been hunted to the edge of extinction, and Henry would love nothing more than to help the rare creature survive. Then a human whirlwind spins through his door. Jack "Dingo" Chambers is also on the hunt for the so-called "Tasmanian Tiger," although his reasons are far more altruistic. Banding together, Dingo and the newly nicknamed Dash travel halfwaytd around the globe in their quest to save the thylacine from becoming a footnote in the pages of biological history. While they search high and low, traverse the wilds, and fight the deadliest of all creatures--man--Dash and Dingo will face danger and discover another fierce passion within themselves: a desire for each other.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
53 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [497 KB]
Reading time: 298-418 min.
Anyone who loves Rider Haggard, Crocodile Dundee or Indiana Jones will have a blast with this book. 5 of 5 stars Erastes @ Speak Its Name
When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears
Did he smile his work to see
Did he who made the Lamb make thee
Tyger! Tyger! burning brigh
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or ey
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? * * * *
--William Blake * * * *
One of the problems of writing something set in a time different from your own is that you have to pay attention to and reflect the sensibilities of that period. This includes the use of certain terms that have become "loaded" since then. In the case of Dash and Dingo, we have used the word "Aborigine" and other derogatory terms to refer to the native people as it was in Australia's past. In contemporary society many indigenous people of Australia find the word offensive as it is linked to colonization and the injustices that were inflicted upon them, the ramifications of which are still found today. Although Henry and Dingo display attitudes that may have been revolutionary for the time, although they were not alone in them, they still would have been unaware of the future weight of the word.
The last known thylacine, which died in the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart in 1936, was known as Benjamin. Despite the name, however, there are many conflicting reports as to the proper sex of the tiger. We had to choose one for the purposes of our story, and we have elected to make Benjamin female.
--C.F. and S.K. * * * *
The wall of water was upon them so quickly that Henry barely had time to jump clear with Dingo's pack. The compression of the walls of rock upstream released just as the river reached their clearing, making the water surge past them at breakneck speed
Dingo made a snatch for the heavy bag, overbalanced, and fell into the angry river, disappearing into the yellowish dirty foam.
"You fucking thrillseeker," Henry growled. He took off his glasses and folded the temple pieces, hanging them carefully on a branch of a nearby tree before he threw himself into the racing water without hesitation, kicking strongly for where he saw the blur of Dingo's sandy head bobbing
It took only seconds for the water to swallow him up as well. * * * *
Chapter One In Which We Are Introduced To Henry, Or 'Dash' As He Is Known By Some
The light falling across the pile of books and loose papers on his desk suddenly made Henry Percival-Smythe aware that it was far later in the morning than he thought it was. He frowned and almost knocked over the cup of tea that Hill had brought in for him what seemed like only moments before--but one sip of the now ice-cold contents of the cup proved that it must have been hours ago.
He made a face at the excessive tannin that now sat in the cup where fresh tea once had been. Henry removed his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. He gave the glasses a good wipe, so he could return to reading the documents spread out before him. But first he rang for Hill and requested a new pot of tea. Hill was duly unimpressed with the fact that the previous pot had gone to waste, but Henry didn't notice as he had already returned to the small packet of photographs that had been wedged inside a field journal.
It was a magnificent creature. It was also the strangest, almost unimaginable, creature that you could have ever seen. And it had Henry enthralled.
"Are you looking at those again, sir?"
Henry almost jumped; he was so surprised by Hill's sudden reappearance at his side. The manservant to the department carefully made some room on Henry's desk where he could place the tray bearing the teapot, milk and sugar jugs, cup, and strainer.
"It's the thylacine, Hill."
Hill gave the pictures a cursory glance and then turned back to the more important subject of his own sphere. "Would you like me to pour for you, sir?"
"Please, Hill." Henry pulled out one of the larger photographs and tried to coax some interest from the other man. "Of course, it's also commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger or the Tasmanian Wolf. But they're misnomers, of course. It is actually a marsupial."
"One or two sugars?"
"One, please. It's perhaps the strangest animal to come out of Australia, and that's saying something because all of their animals are unique and bizarre."
"Lemon or milk?"
"Milk," Henry sighed. As usual, it was an uphill battle to try and get anybody interested in his own private obsession. "It's a sad story, Hill. The thylacine has been hunted until now it stands on the edge of extinction. Besides a few disputed local sightings, the only place you can really see one alive now is in a handful of zoos around the world."
"Here you go, sir." Hill pointedly handed him the cup, so Henry was forced to recognize its existence. "Anything else?"
Henry shook his head despondently, and Hill nodded before leaving the room.
The photographs captivated him again, and Henry laid the cup of tea aside without having taken a sip.
There was something about the tiger's outlandish appearance that charmed Henry and made it truly beautiful in his eyes. Sadly, the last thylacine in captivity in a London zoo had died in 1931, before he had formed his obsession. Henry had only seen black and white photographs and jerky film footage of it, but he knew the tiger to have a caramel-colored coat with distinctive dark brown stripes that wrapped around its back and a tail as stiff as a broomstick which usually jutted out at an angle from its body. It could also be mistaken for a strange dog until it opened its most enthralling feature: the mouth. The gaping jaws opened like that of an alligator; some of the photos Henry owned of it yawning could still send a shiver through him. The thylacine was a miracle.
And he had come across its existence purely by accident. It hadn't been that long after he had come to work in the archives section for Ealing College, a job that he had only managed to obtain because of strings his father had pulled. Henry hated nepotism, but he wanted this job so badly he didn't care in this instance. Why work for the public library system or the archives of some Fleet Street broker when you could work as a junior level researcher and archivist in the world of academia at a small but prestigious college?
The oblong cardboard box addressed to his section hadn't seemed that out of the ordinary when it was first brought to him. It sat on his desk for a couple of hours before he finally got around to it, using his pocketknife to cut the twine that held it together. A pungent smell emanated from it, and he wrinkled his nose unhappily. But when he pulled the cover off, he saw for the first time the glorious pelt of the thylacine, along with the first photographs that would become part of his collection.
His collection. Of course, it wasn't his and he had no claim to it. But he had come to think of it as his and his alone. What he hadn't expected were the tears that came to his eyes as he ran his hand over the fur while reading the notes that came with the pelt. The photos gave the animal a face, the fur gave it a sense of realism, and the fact that it was merely a pelt made the tragedy of the thylacine hit him with full force. With great sadness he cataloged the specimen and found himself returning day after day to gaze upon it. Then he began the research.
That had been two years ago. It was now beyond an obsession. Henry's tea had grown cold again as he excitedly pored over the new mail that had been handed to him that morning by Hill. It was the letter addressed to him which had come from Tyenna, Tasmania, that made his blood sing with joy and fear. * * * *
December 30th, 1934
I enclose for you some recent documents following a rash of sightings of the thylacine in the area of Maydena. It has been quite some time since the thylacine was seen around here, but lately we are getting a wave of them reported by reliable witnesses. This may be just what you're looking for. A friend of mine is on his way to speak with your superiors to try and give weight to our claims and support you in launching a personal investigation. His name is Jack Chambers, and they, as well as yourself, may find him... a little rough around the edges. But he is the man you are looking for, and you will get what you need with him. He will probably arrive not that long after you receive this, and he will be bringing further evidence with him. I hope this means that we will see you soon in our country and we may begin to undo the damage that has been done by both of our governments.
Henry wasn't too happy about this strange Australian about to turn up at the college to try to lay claim to his own personal project, but he trusted Gordon. Henry had been in correspondence with him ever since he had first seen the pelt, and Gordon had supplied him with more pieces for his collection. The thylacine had become a popular exhibit, although most of the people who gawked at it seemed to see it as some sort of monster rather than the creature of beauty and mystery it truly was.
So now it was time to pull out the big guns. Henry quickly swept up his papers and stuffed them into his satchel. He slung it around his shoulder and ran out the door with it bumping against his hip. Professors and students alike turned in his hurried wake to wonder what he was doing, showing such disregard for social order in the very halls where dignity reigned.
The sunlight that had previously made him aware of the passing hours had disappeared; it was now raining heavily as he ran through the courtyard that would take him to the main administration building. He was instantly soaked through, even in the brief time it took him to get from one end to the other. He burst through the outer door of Jonathon Larwood's office, all decorum absent, dripping wet and panting.
Diana Winton, Larwood's personal secretary, ran a cool gaze over him. He shivered under her scrutiny.
"You're wet," she observed matter-of-factly.
"It's raining," he said, feeling rather stupid.
"I take it you got the message I sent you?"
Henry frowned. "No. You sent me a message?"
"Oh, honestly!" she said disapprovingly. "Nobody ever picks up the telephone in your department."
"I never even heard it."
"Was that meant to surprise me?" She stood up and moved from behind her desk to a small closet built into the wall, her high heels clacking on the tiles he was dripping on. Diana held a towel out to Henry in her manicured hand, her marcelled hair and red-lipsticked mouth a direct rebuke to his disheveled appearance. "You can't go in to see him like that."
Diana shook her head. "I just don't know what to make of you sometimes, Mr. Percival-Smythe."
"I've told you to call me Henry."
"And I've told you that wouldn't be professional, Mr. Percival-Smythe." She gave him an aloof smile. "Now, dry yourself off. Mr. Larwood is speaking with someone at the moment, but he'll want you in there presently."
Henry began rubbing his hair dry. "Who's in there with him?"
Diana sat back down behind her desk. "Well, I can't tell you that. But oh...." She trailed off with a strangely dreamy smile on her face.
"Oh?" Henry repeated.
"He's a foreigner. From the colonies."
"American?" It had been a long time since America was their colony, but regarding them as such was a particular amusement of the British.
"Australian. His accent would strip the paper off the walls, but he is very charming." There was that smile again. "Very, very charming."
Henry felt an odd pang of jealousy, even though he had never been interested in Diana that way.
"Really?" And then the realization struck him. "Australian, you said?"
"Yes, Mr. Percival-Smythe."
"His name wasn't Jack Chambers, was it?"
"If it was, that wasn't how he introduced himself."
"Oh." Henry was relieved. It meant he still had time to try and win Larwood over to his side before Chambers could show up to try and take it all away from him.
"May I get you a cup of tea while you wait?"
He nodded. "Please."
Henry was enjoying his first hot cuppa of the day when Larwood stuck his head out of his office and noticed Henry. "Ah, Miss Winton, I was just coming out to ask you if you had heard from young Henry."
Henry winced internally. He hated being called that; it was a result of having practically grown up in the college due to his father's philanthropic endeavors with the faculty.
"As you can see, he's here," Diana replied, sipping her tea.
"Quite," Larwood said. "Would you make another pot of tea, please? Henry, come through."
Henry smiled at Diana, and she gave a slightly unprofessional roll of her eyes in return. He left his empty teacup with her and followed Larwood into his office. The dark walnut paneling made the interior seem even darker than the wintry day outside, as much as the bankers' lamps tried to rebel against it. Henry could make out a dark form slumped comfortably into one of the chairs before Larwood's desk, with one muscular leg swinging over the arm.
"I have a visitor here," Larwood said. "Mr. Chambers, this is Henry Percival-Smythe."
The dark shadow stood and moved into the light. "Christ, Larwood, I told you, Mr. Chambers is my dad."
Larwood appeared slightly flustered. "Erm, yes. Henry, this is Mr.... uh, Dingo. Mr. Dingo Chambers."
The oddly named man could now be fully seen in the meager light from the window. "You almost got it there, mate. Dingo Chambers."
"Dingo" was like a fictional character out of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. Tall, broad-shouldered, and bronzed, he was an Antipodean Adonis, and Henry found himself catching his breath. His sand-colored hair was strangely tousled, and Henry immediately found himself searching the chair the man had just vacated; his deduction proved correct, for a hat was propped against the leg. Henry looked back over to the man Diana had dubbed "the foreigner" who was looking back at him with unabashed interest. Henry realized Dingo's nose was slightly squashed, as if it had been broken and set unevenly, although it only served to give his face character, especially when partnered with the crooked smile beneath it.
"Give us your handle again, mate. I didn't catch it," Dingo said around his thick accent.
Henry looked at him in confusion. "Handle?"
"Your moniker, mate. What's your name?"
"Oh, of course." Henry offered his hand. "Henry Percival-Smythe."
"Jesus, that's a mouthful," Dingo replied. But as he said it, his gaze passed over the crotch of Henry's trousers and an almost lascivious smirk spread across his face.
Henry froze. Was that meant to be some sort of double entendre? He looked to Larwood for support; the other man seemed oblivious, and rather in awe of Dingo himself, although it could have been fear of what this strange native from the distant colonies might do next more than anything else.
As if he hadn't done a thing to unnerve the other man, Dingo continued. "I'll just call you Dash, okay?"
"But that's not my name," Henry said, realizing with each passing second he sounded even more stereotypically prissy and British than before.
"What, do you think my parents christened me Dingo?" The man in question tipped back his head and laughed heartily.
Henry eyed him suspiciously. "Quite frankly, it wouldn't surprise me."
"For heaven's sake, Henry," Larwood finally spoke up. "You heard me introduce him as Jack Chambers."
"I've been Dingo longer than I've been Jack," Dingo said abruptly.
"Well, no doubt you two have a lot to discuss," Larwood said hopefully. "Why don't you take Mr.... er... Dingo, to your office, Henry?"
"Professor Larwood, I was hoping to--" Henry started.
"Right, that we do." Dingo scooped his hat from the floor and clapped it onto his head. He grabbed Larwood's hand and pumped it heartily. "Thanks for the nice welcome, mate, and I've no doubt we'll be meeting again as soon as Dash here and I finalize our plans."
"Wait, we can't just--" Henry protested.
"Sure we can," Dingo said cheerfully. He grabbed Henry's bicep and dragged him to the door. "We should get to know each other better. We'll be spending a lot time together, and it's a trial to be out in the bush with a man you can't get on with."
Henry looked back pleadingly at Larwood over his shoulder, and the older man shrugged philosophically, but a tiny smile played over his lips. Henry imagined that Larwood was thinking "rather you than me" as Henry was hauled from the room, feeling Dingo's fingers squeeze his arm as if assessing how much muscle he had.
In the anteroom, Dingo released him to smirk engagingly at Diana, saying, "Thanks for the cuppa earlier, Miss Winton. Warms a man's bones on these nippy days."
"Diana, please call me Diana," the usually unapproachable Miss Winton purred, practically melting under the sun of Dingo's smile.
"The name of a goddess too," Dingo said admiringly. "Huntress of the moon. You've got the look of her. Saw a statue once, in Rome."
Henry seethed as Diana's slender figure seemed to shiver with delight at the broad compliments, although he wasn't certain what ticked him off more, her reaction or Dingo's easy confidence in his own powers of attraction.
"Will we be seeing you again, Mr. Chambers?" Diana tried to seem nonchalant as she asked.
Dingo winked at her. "Try and keep me away. Although Dash here," he clapped Henry on the back, nearly sending him staggering awkwardly toward the door, "and I have a lot to discuss about our expedition."
Thrilled, Diana's eyes opened wide. "Where are you going?"
Leaning closer, Dingo confided, "Deep into the wilds of Tasmania. It's a dangerous country, full of snakes, spiders, and wild animals. And the Aborigines; a savage lot they are. We may never be seen alive again."
"You--and Henry?" Diana emitted a dainty trill of laughter.
Henry glared at her, clutching his satchel under his arm. What was so funny about the thought of him in Australia? Not that he'd agreed to go anywhere with this crazy colonist, and as soon as he got him alone, he would tell him so. And of course, he didn't much like the sound of those spiders.
"Why, don't you think Dash has what it takes?" Dingo turned to glance at Henry and something about his laughing face made Henry want to hit him. And he wasn't a violent man.
"Why do you keep calling him Dash?" Diana leaned her chin on her hand, prepared to be enthralled with Dingo's answer.
"Why, it's that fine, fancy, double-barreled last name of his, isn't it?" Dingo laughed. "Percival Dash Smythe. Too much to mouth over every time. We Aussies like to cut to the meat of things."
"Dash." Diana giggled when she said it, but her gaze was newly speculative when she looked at Henry.
Dingo turned to hoist a well-worn bag to his shoulder from where it leaned against the wall and hooked his arm through Henry's. "Come on then, Dash. You're wasting this pretty lady's time, standing here flirting with her."
"Me?" Henry sputtered. "I haven't said a word--"
"Bit shy with the ladies, is our Dash," Dingo confided to Diana. She giggled again and wiggled in her chair as if she could barely contain her delight. Of course, Diana wiggling was merely the motion of shifting in her chair once or twice. But for Diana, it was practically akin to standing and breaking into a wild, bohemian Charleston.
Once in the hallway, Henry tried to pull his arm free, but Dingo was a bit sturdier than he and didn't let go so easily. "Where the fuck--"
"Blimey! You do have a mouth on you after all," Dingo said admiringly, and Henry was embarrassed to feel a flush of gratification at the praise. "Tell me, got a bottle in your office?"
"A...a bottle... of what?"
"Grog, mate. Booze. I need to wash the flavor of that tea from my mouth. It's a fretful taste, Dash."
"My name isn't Dash, and I don't have a bottle," Henry disclaimed, although he actually did have a little nip stashed away in a certain locked drawer.
"I guess it's the local for us then, Dash."
Henry succeeded in freeing his arm at last. "I'm not going anywhere with you, not the pub nor Australia. This is my project, and I'm doing it on my own."
"Right you are, and I'm going with you." Dingo grinned. "Call yourself the head of the expedition if you like, but you'd play hob without me. Think you've only got to stroll up to Tassie's home and knock on the door? 'Come on in, Dash, and have a cuppa', they'll say, right before they have you for their tea."
"Of course I don't think that," Henry sputtered. "For one thing, the thylacines do not eat people. But surely--"
"Don't call me Shirley, call me Dingo," the other man urged. "And are you certain they don't? Anyhoo, if you've any humanity in you, show me to the nearest pub. I'm dry as a desert."
"Fine, I'll show you where it is, but I'm not coming in with you," Henry said with a sinking feeling that Dingo wouldn't hesitate to drag him inside by main force. He opened the door and stepped out into the pouring rain for his second soaking of the day. * * * *
Chapter Two In Which More Is Discovered About Dingo
An hour and several pints later, Henry was both fascinated and furious with Dingo.
"So you Brits come to Australia with your hounds, and it stands to reason that a few of them run off into the bush. I mean, you already did it to us with the rabbits, didn't you? A few years later and feral dogs are roaming the countryside, terrorizing wildlife and livestock alike, and everyone blames poor Tassie. So it's really your fault the thylacine are so rare, and by rights you ought to do something about it."
"I know all that, not that I'm taking personal responsibility for the dogs," Henry retorted. "And I was planning to do something about it, I just want it clear that if the college funds this expedition, I will be in charge."
"What are you planning to do?" Dingo challenged before commenting, "Good ale, but warm."
Henry ignored this sally. "The zoo in Hobart has the last known remaining thylacine. If we were able to find a small pocket, even a family, or at least a male and female, then we could bring them all back to London to start a breeding program--"
"And why London?" Dingo interjected. "Why not keep them in their own land?"
"The London Zoo has one of the most scientific and prestigious reputations in the world." Henry tried to be as tactful as possible. "No offense, but even Gordon Austin has said that your zoos cannot measure up, as they are slightly primitive--"
"Primitive?" Dingo bristled.
"You know what I mean," Henry said quickly. "And if you are as committed to the survival of the tigers as I am, then you have to admit the zoo here is more capable--"
As if not wanting to have to admit to anything that cast aspersions on his homeland, Dingo changed the subject, attracting attention in the noisy pub with his hoot of glee. "And you're planning to just slip a leash over Tassie's head and say 'heel' and expect him to follow along behind you all meek and mild. Dash, you are a one."
How was Dingo so successful at making him feel incompetent, Henry wondered, when they'd only known each other a few hours? "If Tassie's as smart as you say, why not? A few days training, a little positive reinforcement... I shouldn't wonder if Tassie, as you call him, wasn't eating out of your hand by the end of the trip."
"Tearing my hand off, more like." Dingo chuckled. "Have you seen those razor-sharp teeth in that crocodile mouth of theirs?"
"Not personally." Henry took a deep breath. "Have you?"
Suddenly Dingo looked remote, as if he were reliving a distant and unspeakable sight. "Yeah."
"Alive?" Henry shivered, his objections to Dingo's brash personality and habit of sweeping all before him melting away.
Dingo glanced both ways with a secretive look. "I should swear you to silence, Dash."
"There are some who want the tiger to die out, understand? They don't take kindly to tales of sightings, and they don't want a male to reach a zoo. Alive, anyway." Dingo raised his glass and drained it, licking the foam from his mouth.
Henry watched absently as the pink tongue traced over the well-cut lips. "They would try to stop us?"
Dingo smiled at Henry's use of the word "us," seemingly binding them into a unit on this adventure. "If we tell everyone what we're going into the bush for, yes."
"Then what are we going to say?"
"That we're going after diamonds," Dingo whispered. He leaned back with a broad grin. "They'll just think we're crazy and pay us no attention."
"There are no diamonds in Australia," Henry said.
"There are, but not many, like South Africa," Dingo said. He yawned suddenly. "Sorry. Been a long day. Maybe I should find a room."
"You can stay here," Henry said in a preoccupied voice. "It's close by the college, and it's a pretty decent inn."
"Meet me here for breakfast, and we'll discuss our approach with old Lardarse," Dingo invited.
"Larwood," Henry corrected automatically.
Dingo rolled his eyes. "Don't have much of a sense of humor, do you, Dash?"
The mischievous grin that spread over Henry's face made Dingo think perhaps he may have underestimated the other man.
"I've as much of one as I'm going to need," Henry said. "By the way, how much of what you say can I actually believe?"
"What do you mean?" Dingo asked.
"Those fearsome Aborigines you were telling Miss Winton about."
"Diana. Lardar--Larwood's secretary."
Dingo smiled at the memory of her. "Ahh, Diana." His face then fell, and he had the grace to look a bit embarrassed. "Well, perhaps I like to embroider somewhat. Working in this business, you have to build yourself up a bit, you know?"
"Really?" Henry asked drily.
"Admit it," Dingo said cheekily. "You were a bit nervous when I mentioned them, weren't you?"
"I might have been if I hadn't done my research on Tasmania and found out that its last full-blooded Aborigine died there in 1878," Henry said smugly. "Plus, I don't really think there's that much to fear from them. They're only human after all, the same as us."
Dingo's tongue made a brief appearance at the corner of his mouth as he looked at Henry thoughtfully. "Not much seems to get past you, does it, Dash?"
"Henry," the other man reminded him. "And no, it doesn't."
Dingo grinned unabashedly. "That's what I like." * * * *
With a shiver, Henry tossed his keys into the Indian brass bowl he kept on the stand near the door. He couldn't wait to get out of his damp clothes and turn on the gas fire. The warm amber glow from the fireplace and the lamps made his flat feel cozy and snug compared to the grey drizzle outside.
Ordinarily, Henry was a stickler for hanging up his clothes immediately when he took them off, particularly when they were damp, but tonight he let them crumple on the floor in his eagerness. He walked naked across his bedroom to the small wardrobe where he had amassed his travel gear; all the items he thought he would need for the projected journey to Australia.
He had taken great pains to acquire the trousers, boots, and khaki shirt, all used and previously worn, not wanting to appear ludicrous in a crisp new outfit. The shirt had belonged to his older brother James IV, who had been on safari to Africa and couldn't stop talking about it. The rest Henry had hunted out in second-hand shops and local bazaars. He'd even purchased a bush hat at the church jumble sale once, when his mother pressured him to help her bring her boxes down.
It had felt like some sort of fantasy treasure hunt while he was putting all the items by, but the flutter of excitement in his stomach as he donned the clothing now made it seem as if his dream was going to become a thrilling reality at last--even if it only seemed so because Dingo had intervened on his behalf. He didn't want to be beholden to the other man, but there was a part of him that was grateful nonetheless.
He went into the lounge to peer at himself in the mirror that hung over the fireplace, turning up the collar on his shirt. Henry donned the hat and pulled it well down over his eyes, admiring how the brim was turned down on one side while it curled rakishly up on the other.
"Dash," he mused. The name sounded as foreign as Dingo's and just as improbable.
He pushed his glasses up his nose. The hat made them tend to slide down a bit.
"Dash Percival-Smythe. Dash Smythe. Dash Smith."
As if he could hear Dingo's boisterous laughter, Henry frowned at his reflection and took off the hat. "Damn. It'll never work."
Deflated, he took off his expedition wardrobe and hurried into pajamas and his dressing gown. His feet were cold. He put his slippers on and went into the kitchen to make himself a nice cup of tea before sitting in front of the fire with his feet on the fender.
"Dash and Dingo," he muttered. "No, he would insist on coming first; it'd have to be Dingo and Dash."
Next to the bluff, breezy colonial with his broad muscular shoulders and golden skin, Henry thought he looked pale, skinny, and bookish. And rather silly in his carefully chosen bush gear.
"It's still my expedition," he growled, "no matter how charming he is."
Rather appalled at the trend of his own thoughts, Henry rinsed out the cup, turned off the fire and lamps, and retired to sink into a somewhat uneasy slumber, dreaming of Dingo and the Tasmanian Tiger, both showing all their copious, dazzling teeth as they laughed at him. * * * *
"Strike the trip to the zoo, Dash. It isn't going to happen," Dingo said, his jaws moving as he munched his bacon.
"But I've got to see a thylacine alive, haven't I? If I'm going to be able to identify one in the wild," Henry countered.
"It's not bloody likely that if you saw one you'd mistake it for, oh, say a sheep," Dingo chuckled. "If we pay a visit to old Benjamin, the game would be up. Everyone who goes tiger hunting stops off there first; so it's no go."
"Fine, perhaps you've a point." Henry fumed. He wanted to see the last known thylacine, which had been given the rather incongruous name of Benjamin, before the term of its natural life came to an end. "We travel by tramp steamer. I figure it'll take approximately twenty-eight days to get to Tasmania--"
Dingo shook his head vehemently. "Nah, mate. We'll hop a plane. I've got this friend who flies the mail from here to Hobart, and we'll be there in four days. And it's free, can't beat that."
Henry tried not to look too defeated while Dingo appeared to be a little smug. Even though he was oversetting all of his plans, Henry had to admit he could see the value in the offer of free travel; it would make his proposition all the more appealing to Larwood. However, he wasn't prepared to let Dingo march off with all the honors in this battle of wills.
"Dingo, just remember, Larwood is an academic. He will respond more favorably to a well-reasoned argument that lays out the advantages to this institution, in terms of money, publicity, and a profitable arrangement with the London zoo, should our quest prove successful."
"Damned if you English don't know how to speak the language," Dingo observed. "If I read you right, Lardarse is a dull old dog, and you're aiming to play into that. I say we hit him where he lives."
"And where, according to you, does he live?" Henry snarled.
"It's all about selling a dream, Dash. We've got to get him so excited, he won't even know he's saying yes while he's agreeing to our terms."
There it was again. We. Us. Our. Henry could see how people got swept up on the tide of Dingo's enthusiasm. He almost did himself but remembered the glazed look of Diana's eyes and swore to himself that he wouldn't look as besotted. Even Larwood seemed in awe of the man.
"Well?" Dingo asked.
Henry realized he had been lost in his own thoughts and may have even been staring at Dingo while doing so. He pushed his glasses back up his nose hurriedly and tried to look as blank as possible. "Yes."
"Did you even hear what I said?"
"Of course I did." Henry checked his watch and was relieved to see that it was almost nine. "I have to go. One of the geology classes is coming in for a tour, and I have to show them our igneous collection."
"No wonder you're itching to get out to see Tassie, if that's what you have to do all day." Dingo said this pleasantly, but it still stung Henry.
"I happen to like my job," Henry replied, bristling slightly.
"Of course you do," Dingo said. "But--"
"But nothing." Henry got to his feet, mustering up as much dignity as he could. "Enjoy the rest of your breakfast, Mr. Chambers. I will schedule a meeting with Mr. Larwood and present our case to him."
Dingo nodded. "Hey, Dash, if I offended you--"
"You didn't," Henry said stiffly, although his meaning was more than apparent to the other man. "I'll let you know the results of the meeting."
"On your bike, then," Dingo said, by way of goodbye.
Henry wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but he felt he would lose face if he had to ask, so he nodded and left one bemused Australian in his wake. * * * *
Henry burned with the fire of indignation all morning as he led a small group of bored students around the geology department's archives. He ended up being snippy with the class, taking out the anger he felt against Dingo upon them. When their time together was finally up, both sides were relieved.
He wasn't sure why Dingo's easy dismissal of his work affected him so much. The truth was that he was slightly bored with it all. Much the same as the morning's students had been. It was the thylacine that had awakened this need for something new within him.
So he decided to go and pay a visit to his thylacine collection, the old friend that always gave him a sense of peace despite its inherent sadness.
But when he got there, he realized he wouldn't be alone.
Dingo sat at the large table, the pelt of the thylacine spread out before him.
"What are you doing?" Henry asked brusquely.
Dingo jumped slightly, which made Henry happy. It was good to know that the man could be startled occasionally. "Dash," he said softly.
That was another surprising thing. That he could speak softly and the strine of his voice faded so much when he did so. It took Henry aback for a moment, and Dingo continued to stare at him.
Henry finally found his tongue again. "This is a priceless collection. How did you get in here, anyway?"
Dingo grinned, and it seemed like he was back to his normal self as well. "Through the door, Dash."
"You need a key." Henry moved around him; it was a tight fit to get between him and the table, and Dingo stood to let him squeeze past. They bumped chests, and he was surprised by the amount of warmth that poured off Dingo--as if he were composed of the bright sun of his homeland itself.
"I've never met a lock I couldn't charm." Dingo tipped slightly, and his chest brushed against Henry's once more.
Flustered, Henry swayed away from him and began to gently pack up the pelt. "So you're admitting you broke in here."
Dingo gave him that disarming smile again. "Ah, yeah, mate. I just did."
"And you think that is acceptable?"
"Well, I knew if I asked you, you'd let me."
"You're presuming too much. How did you find the pelt, anyway?"
Tiring of the interrogation, Dingo sat back down. "I can read a catalog, you know."
"Oh," Henry said, deflated. "Of course."
"Yeah, of course."
Knowing that he had overstepped the bounds of propriety, Henry was at a loss on how to proceed. He stared down at the pelt and tenderly stroked the caramel fur. For a second, he caught a fleeting glimpse of how it would look in the wild, wrapped around a living, breathing, sentient creature. It would be just a flash against the lush green of the Tasmanian rainforest, gone so fast you would wonder if it were just a dream... or your heart wanting you to see something so badly it would pull it out of the realms of imagination to make it real for you.
"This isn't just a thing to you," Dingo said, breaking his reverie.
Henry blinked, collected himself, and met the other man's gaze. "No," he replied simply.
"I came in here to touch base," Dingo told him. "I'm still battling with myself, wondering if this is the right thing to do. But when I saw that pelt and thought that in a few years' time this could be all that's left of the poor buggers... we have to do whatever we can. Even if it means coming here--one last chance. It's probably all they've got."
"I like that you give a shit," Dingo said. "That's why I already met with Lardarse and told him you were going with me, no arguments."
"You saw him without me?" Henry protested.
"Do you ever listen to a bloody word I say?" Dingo asked.
Confused, Henry pressed the lid back onto the pelt box. "And what did he say?"
"Well, he was as mad as a cut snake, said I had no right to boss him around. But in the end, he knew I had him by the balls."
Henry looked at him agape.
"Not literally." Dingo scowled. "Get a grip, Dash!"
"But what does that all mean?"
"That you're coming to Tassie, of course. I always get my way."
Speechless, Henry did the thing he least expected to do, and before he could even think of the possible ramifications. He threw himself into Dingo's arms and hugged him enthusiastically.
"I'm going to Tassie!" he cried. "I mean, Tasmania."
He felt the warm breath of Dingo's chuckle against his cheek, and he came back down to earth when he realized the position he was in. He pulled away and instantly regretted it. Dingo stared at him with faint amusement.
"Er, sorry," Henry said hastily.
"No worries," Dingo replied. "You know, Dash, if I knew you felt that way about me, I would have had all this sorted out on the first day I got here."
"It's a British custom," Henry lied, regaining his usual haughty demeanor. "I'm sure when I get to Australia I must allow for the cultural differences there."
There was a tiny little smirk playing upon Dingo's lips. "Custom, huh?"
Henry pushed his glasses up. "Yes. When one gets excited by something, one becomes... a little exuberant."
"Okay. I have to get back to the pub and start making arrangements, get in touch with Deano and find out when he's flying. I'll call you later."
"Sure," Henry said, still trying to collect himself.
He didn't get a chance, as he was suddenly enveloped in Dingo's strong arms when the man hugged him. The slight beard on his cheek grazed against Henry's clean-shaven one, and Henry felt as if he had suddenly been marked.
"Custom, right?" Dingo asked, with a devilish glint in his eye. "I'm excited, you see. Exuberant."
Henry nodded, the burn from Dingo's cheek finding new skin.
Dingo let him go and picked up his hat from the table, setting it firmly upon his head. "Tooroo, then, Dash."
Henry nodded, and when Dingo closed the door behind him, he pressed his hand against his warmed cheek. He couldn't help but feel the other man had seen right through his act, but somehow he didn't mind. Which was practically akin to him breaking out and joining Diana in the Charleston.