As Lansard and Wibawa’s team were setting off for the clearing, Superintendent Shum and Sergeant Wong were having breakfast in the hotel cafe. It was an alfresco affair and overlooked the beach on the other side of the road. Wong was looking intently over the rim of his coffee cup.
“Looking for topless Australians, Sergeant?” Asked Shum.
“You never know your luck,” said the Sergeant with a smile.
Shum was arranging his file on the table beside his cup and saucer with the picture of Lansard on the cover. As the waitress began to clear the empty dishes and pour fresh coffee she happened to notice the picture. She recognised the man in the photo. He had stayed at this hotel just a few days ago and she had been paid handsomely to bring him a live chicken on the night of his arrival. What he had done with the bird she had no idea and he had paid her enough money not to ask any questions. She left the table without saying anything.
As the afternoon wore on Wibawa’s son called Lansard over to join them at the fire they had lit. He told Lansard that the time was right for his father to explain the history of the dragons and a little of what was going to happen that night.
The men sat on mats that the porters had set out for them at the edge of the clearing. They were brought tea and as they sipped the hot sweet beverage Wibawa’s son began to talk. Lansard realised that he had never introduced himself, other than to say that he was Wibawa’s son. At this point in time, he had little interest in asking.
“Many years ago,” the man began, “my father was a shaman, a holy man that lived in these forests. In those days the white men came, the Dutch, and they butchered anything that they thought might provide them with riches. They sought out the dragons but fortunately found they were unsuitable for consumption or hide.
However, they killed many of them, sometimes for sport and because they were thought of as ugly monsters. The real monsters were the white men with their weapons.
The people didn’t trust the Dutch and their teachings and people like my father, there were not many of them, were sought out for guidance. By this time my father had lived amongst the dragons for many years and they never harmed him. Somehow, he found that he was able to communicate with them.
Then he discovered the three God Dragons. Three dragons of enormous size and cunning and wisdom. As my father sat in the woods, in an area such as this they would come to him and speak with him. They taught him many things and he venerated them. Occasionally bringing them sacrifices and one night they revealed to him the secret of longevity. It was all a matter of great trust and he allowed the King God to bite him on the arm.”
Lansard remembered his father telling him that Wibawa had bitten him on the arm during his ceremony. He didn’t notice Yudianto looking down at his own forearm. The son continued.
“Eventually my father had to leave Komodo. The Dutch decided to arrest the shamans. They believed that they might cause trouble for them. In reality, nothing was further from the truth. My father had no interest in their politics and wanted only to live with his dragons. He went to the island of Bali which is where your father found him all those years ago.
“He told me that he saw in your father a genuine seeker. Someone who might well take up his faith. But that was not to be, having accepted the gift of longevity your father once again sought the company of his own kind. He left Bali and with him, he took the curse.”
Lansard interrupted. “What do you mean, he took the curse?”
“The Dragon Gods bestow the gift of longevity on their faithful, but it comes at a cost, Once a year they must return to the island of Komodo and sit with the Gods. And, once in every normal life span, say 80 years, they must bring a sacrifice with them. My father explained all of this to your father, but in his arrogance, he believed that he could ignore his commitments. The commitments he did indeed avoid, but in time, the curse made itself known to him.”
Lansard remembered that last terrible night. The night they had eaten Baker and the half-man, half-lizard that his father had become. He had wondered how soon it would be before his father attacked him.
Wibawa’s son paused and looked at Lansard. He could see the thought processes going through the man’s face. Lansard was beginning to understand what his father should have done and what he needed to do. Lansard didn’t notice Yudianto and the porters slip away into the night.
Then the son was talking again and Lansard was aware that the insect-life noise from the surrounding undergrowth had gone silent.
“You inherited some of the longevity your father possessed but, in order to have a true longevity you must undergo the same ritual that he did.”
“You mean I must let Wibawa bite me.”
“Yes,” said the son. “And then a sacrifice must be made.”
Lansard stopped to think. He had killed people and feasted on their flesh to keep the curse at bay and also to feed his father. However, this was somehow different, it was an avoidable death. Was there no other way, he wondered, to avoid the curse.
“So,” he said to Wibawa’s son. “In order for me to gain your father’s gift I must sacrifice a human being to the Komodo Dragons.”
“The person receiving the gift must make the sacrifice.”
“Then, I must sacrifice someone… Yudianto?”
“No, in fact, Yudianto will not be your sacrifice. You will be his.”
The words slowly sank into Lansard’s brain. Suddenly he realised what the wound on Yudianto’s arm was. And then, just as the realisation hit him, rough hands grab his arms and hauled him to his feet. Wibawa, his son and Yudianto stood before him.
“Your father betrayed my father’s trust. Never before had any gifted person run from his responsibilities to the gods. Now you must make amends for his betrayal.”
“No – wait! Yudianto! Help me! Please!”
The men held him firmly, his arms behind his back, he could feel the tendons in his shoulders popping as they marched him forward towards the edge of the clearing and there to his horror Lansard saw the three Dragon Gods awaiting him, three Komodo Dragons of incredible size. He was able to twist his head about one last time, hoping to beg Wibawa for a chance to prove his worthiness, to Yudianto for forgiveness, but all he saw was Yudianto gazing at Wibawa’s face with a look of pure adoration. Then lansard was flung to the ground before the Dragons and the last thing he saw was the life-giving saliva dripping from their jaws.
Inspector Shum was pleasantly surprised when Major Suwanto called him with the news that an informant had spotted Lansard in the company of several Balinese men embarking on a boat headed for the island of Komodo. This had happened several days ago. The major suggested that he arrange transportation for the three of them to the island as quickly as possible. Shum agreed and told Wong what he had learnt. He then sent an email back to PHQ Hong Kong to keep them informed of his movements. All they could do now was wait for the major to contact them again.
The major had suggested that they charter a small plane to take them to Komodo but Shum didn’t think his boss would be pleased with the expense so the next best option was to take one of the fast cruise ships headed that way. Major Suwanto used his connections to obtain three, first-class cabins and they departed that same afternoon.
They arrived late the following afternoon and went straight to the Ranger Post located in the port village. The officer in charge of the post did not recognise Lansard from the picture he was shown. It was possible, he said, that Lansard and his party had come ashore at another location on the island in which case there would be no record of his arrival or departure if indeed, he had actually arrived. There were many other islands he might have stopped off at. In order to search the entire island, he would need the cooperation of the Indonesian Army and it was highly unlikely that he was going to receive this. Given the impossibility of carrying out the search by himself, Shum decided that the investigation, or at least this part of the investigation, had to come to an end.
On their return to Bali, Major Suwanto promised Shum that he would keep his eyes and ears open for any sign of Lansard. A day later, as they shook hands at Denpasar airport Shum thanked the major on behalf of the Hong Kong Police and assured him of his full cooperation should he ever require assistance in Hong Kong. The Major’s brain went into overdrive thinking of possible reasons to visit the former British Colony and his eyes lit up at the thought of the kind of cooperation he would require.
As the Garuda flight took off and flew across Bali on its way back to Hong Kong, Shum looked out of the window at the lush verdant hillsides and wondered if anyone would ever see Lansard again.
Somehow he doubted it.
(c) Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2017 – Not for Distribution
The Featured photo is by Mark Dumont – Flickr: There Be Dragons, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25935468