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The Man Who Ate The Dodo

Susan! Susan, I know you’ll never hear this – Oh God! I don’t even know if you’re still alive. Please forgive me. What has he done (sobbing)? What have I done? There was no way I could stop him. Short of murder. Honest! I never should have even had this stupid job. My friends used to think I was a poet.

Why am I blabbering and blubbering into this microphone? Oh man, this is so screwed up! What else am I going to do? My name is Frank Dunlap. You may know me as August Manstrom’s biographer.

Susan warned me. She saw him for what he really was. I saw him as a meal ticket; a tool; a stepping stone; a resource to be exploited; the key that could propel me to my greater glory. I was eager. I was ambitious. I was hungry. I was confident. I was a fool.

Was it only fifteen years ago that I sought him out? Back then he wasn’t the man we know today. When I first met him, he even told me to call him Augie. He hasn’t told anyone that in quite a while.

“Frank, eh? Great name for the fellow who’s going to make me immortal. THE LIFE OF DANIEL AUGUSTUS MANSTROM: A FRANK STORY. Ha, get it?”

“You mean I’m hired? Have you even looked at my resume?”

“Why should I? What’s it going to tell me I can’t see with my own eyes?”

A spontaneous billionaire? Not really. Later I came across the notes from a private investigator Manstrom had hired to fully vet me. Among the items Manstrom had underlined was, “Dunlap holds certain leftist beliefs you may find troubling, but he appears to be malleable and easily controlled. Particularly by flattery and financial incentives.”

The lack of inaccuracy in the statement depressed me for several days. Eventually my powers of rationalization took over and my mind replaced “malleable” with “amiable” and “easily controlled” with “knows how to get along.” We wouldn’t be where we are today without the power to delude ourselves about ourselves.

Those early days were a whirlwind of an introduction to the hedonism available to the fabulously wealthy. He took me with him everywhere, granting me unfettered access to a world I never knew existed. It is shameful to admit, but I had a ball.

We drank Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 with the Prime Minister of France, and Chateau Laffite 1787 with Malcolm Forbes. We smoked cigars with Castro, ganja with Bob Marley’s guru and opium with a Vietnamese exporter so mysterious not even Manstrom knew his name. We partied with Croatian Countesses, Indian actresses, and Russian models (this resulted in my break-up with Susan. Oh how I miss her). We skied in the Alps (I fractured my fibula); skydived in New Zealand (I threw up at 5,000 feet); and cave dived in the Mediterranean (I panicked when my flashlight failed and Manstrom had to drag me out of a dark, narrow tunnel).

More often than not, we were the first to do whatever we did wherever we did it. “I’m not a follower, Frank. Something about being the first and only feels like owning a piece of time. Nobody else can ever have that moment, that moment of being the first and only.”

It seemed like the more we spent, the more money Manstrom made. He was born wealthy. His father built ships. Later he leased airplanes. And he owned prime real estate in Hong Kong.

When his father died, Augie branched out into resort building, munitions dealing and movie making. “You only own them for two hours,” Manstrom told me, “but what you’ve put in their heads will always be there to welcome you back. A single word can conjure up all those images. All that fantasy. And they’ve got to have more. It’s better than selling dope.” Until I heard that one remark, I always thought the film business was mostly a hobby he enjoyed for social and sexual reasons.

After I had been with him for seven or eight years, I had enough material for three books. I had gained ten pounds. And I had twice been treated for sexually transmitted diseases. I knew I should have quit. But this was a trip with no end. How could you get off a ride that was going so fast? Who knew what he would come up with next? I had to find out.

There was another reason I stayed with him. Manstrom liked me. He seemed to think I was creative and witty. Worthy of sharing his unique experiences. He trusted me to tell his tale. It was more than flattering. It was exhilarating, elevating and enchanting. It was a fantastic Technicolor dream that kept expanding beyond imagination until it turned into a nightmare called “reality.”

His transformation from international playboy to indescribable monster did not occur overnight. Slowly but surely he changed from a generous and sharing eccentric to a cold and self-centered sociopath.

He craved uniqueness. Singleness. He coveted the seemingly unattainable. His desire for exclusiveness became obsessive.

Manstrom’s sexual appetite was no longer stimulated by beauty and charm. It was all about ownership. At first he desired only married women. And at the point they left their husbands, he immediately lost interest. That was eventually replaced by a lust for virgins. He had to be the first. The only.

I was never more surprised than when I realized he had lost all interest in sex. Two passions became all that motivated him. One was haute cuisine. He had to have the finest meals, prepared by the most celebrated chefs. He demanded dishes that were created especially for him and never again served to anyone else.

His second passion was power. It was achieved by the strategic sale of weapons. Right or wrong was not a consideration. Victory and control were all that mattered. He backed winners! And they owed him.

A little over a year ago, Manstrom’s appearance began to change. He gained weight and then lost it -- only to quickly gain and lose it again and again. His once handsome face became alternately bloated and gaunt. I suspected he had a serious medical condition. Hepatitis? Cancer, perhaps, or even AIDS? We’ll never know.

His selfish lust for total uniqueness turned more and more macabre. To make certain the special dishes he ate were never duplicated, he insisted on eating endlings - the last member of endangered species.

Although the Great Auk was thought to be extinct, Manstrom somehow located three of them in Iceland. He devoured the last of the flightless birds in a marinade of olive oil, lime-juice, garlic, curry powder and dehydrated onion.

The lone remaining Bubal Antelope in North Africa provided him with what he declared to be an “exquisite” chili con carne. The Deepwater Cisco from Lake Huron had long been thought extinct. It was, after Manstrom ordered one pan-fried. At least a dozen other species made their farewell appearance in a plate on his dining table.

Now mankind will soon join these poor creatures in extinction, thanks to this nuclear and biological war instigated by my Master to satisfy his perverse desire to be “the one and only.” We are “riding it out” in a well-stocked 5-star bunker deep beneath a remote forest in an isolated region of New Mexico. Man’s first shelter was a cave. And so shall it be his last.

I have locked myself in a small room behind the kitchen. But he has found me. There is no one left to recognize the sound of the torch cutting through the steel door. He will soon be standing next to me. We are endlings - the last two men on earth, and he is hungry!

James BigBoy Medlin © 2017

James BigBoy Medlin was the sports writer for the original Austin Sun. His column was called "Why Not?"

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