(…) The Prince sent two teams of three men each to northern Australia equipped with Sat Nav equipment, infra-red cameras, detailed topographical and military maps and enough money to buy two sturdy four wheel drive vehicles and rent a helicopter for ten days. They searched a 2000 square mile area in precisely laid out grids and found nothing. The Prince’s personal assistant found, interviewed and paid the Argentinian, the Malaysian and the South African. He told them he was a journalist, but the Scottish engineer and the Czech biologist refused to talk to him, even for lots of money. He flew out to Australia a week later, based himself in the State capital of Brisbane, and scoured building permits, land deeds, voting records and utility contracts for anything they may have missed. Then he drove to an outback town in the area and hired an aboriginal tracker.
“No angels out here, mate,” the tracker snorted, swatting flies off his dog. “But I can introduce you to my sister, if you wanna.”
“You must understand that the Prince is on a quest. He seeks his future Queen.”
“An’ maybe he just wanna fuck her?”
“Well that too, I suppose. Dear me.”
“Any sheilas out here ain’t wearing glass slippers,” promised the tracker, who disappeared mysteriously into the bush, drank for a week in a small country pub and then came back and said, “Nah. Where’s me money?”
The Prince became increasingly obsessed. He tore around the penthouse barking orders at his personal assistant on the phone, snapping at his personal staff and treating the various models and aspiring actresses increasingly rudely and dismissively. He slept badly and felt a constant, aching, impotent rage at the lack of progress. Eventually he packed a suitcase, flew to Brisbane and picked up the hapless and dispirited assistant, took a domestic flight to Cairns and rented a suite for a month at the city’s best hotel. He shouted at the two team’s leaders, interviewed the bemused hospital intern himself and bought the helicopter.
For the following three weeks he flew every day across the mountains and arid hinterland and far into the outback, driving himself to the point of exhaustion and desperation. The helicopter pilot quit and he employed another, the personal assistant drank himself into oblivion waiting in the hotel room, and the search teams drifted away.
On the day his money ran out the helicopter turned and banked into the orange blister of the setting sun and the almost psychotic and deranged Prince, his lips cracked and sunburned and his voice hoarse, motioned for the pilot to set down in a wide valley thick with towering gum trees. The fuel tanks were almost empty and they were miles from nowhere.
“Wait here,” he croaked to the exasperated pilot. “I saw something.”
“What do you mean? There’s nothing here!” shouted the pilot above the roar of the rotor blades as the Prince disappeared into the trees.
He came to the lake, knelt, cupped his hands and drank, then walked slowly around its jewelled shore to the homestead. She stood on the patio, the white dress clinging to her body in the gentle evening breeze. Her eyes were the blue of the wide open sky, her body was as lithe and graceful as the boughs and trunks of the white gum trees, and her skin was as smooth and brown as the fine powder of the dry earth. She was so beautiful he couldn’t breathe.
“Have you found what you want?” she asked, smiling.
“Most definitely,” he said, but the lecherous triumph stuck in his parched mouth and turned to dust. Then he said an extraordinary thing. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” (…)
© andrew wheeler