Like an existentialist anti-hero trying to create his own meaning in a meaningless world, yes, he knew of such Commie ideas though he didn't approve of or believe in them, the Duke struck out across the rubbly desert as if he was going to a showdown, him against the bad guy, though who the bad guy was in this instance he couldn't imagine. Was it him? The Duke didn't even know why such a subversive thought had crept into his brain, not that he always played the good guy in his movies, not recently anyway, the one-dimensional good guy who didn't have any flaws, his most recent roles were more shaded and ambiguous than that, like his role as Ethan Edwards in the Searchers, now that had been a hard-bitten character because who in their right mind would even dream of harming one hair on Natalie Wood's head under any circumstances, even if she had been ravaged by an entire tribe of godless red savages, a secret or perhaps not so secret fantasy of every red-blooded American male who watched that movie, but was it comparatively more complex roles like that which would make him feel as if he might be the bad guy in his current circumstances? Maybe he was just trying to make his own movie, a movie in which he was both the good and the bad guy, a thought which only confused the Duke more since he knew his own life was not a movie even if no one else did, though he supposed the metaphor wasn't that farfetched if a tad romantic,
The Duke wanted to cry out and crush something in his bare hands, but there was no prop handy to express his frustration so he just kept marching into the desert night like an automaton, a word he didn't know he had known until now and would probably never use in any of his movies or in conversation with his friends because it was too fancy, not that he was the simple unsophisticated cowboy his image made him out to be though he could play that role and be just as rough and ready as his enemies imagined and the Duke had to admit that sometimes he fell into doing almost a parody of himself because it was too easy and he wanted to satisfy peoples' expectations, hell, he was an entertainer, it was his natural instinct, but the real question was, why was he walking like this again? Did he really want to get lost this time? It seemed like he did, as if that was the only way he could face whatever was bothering him and perhaps even, was afraid of. Afraid? Him, John Wayne, the Duke, champion of freedom and justice? There was nothing that he was afraid of except losing his career, of course, ironic considering the pinnacle of success he had reached or maybe not so ironic since the higher up you got the more you had to lose, but yes, dammit, there were things he was afraid of, just like anybody, why should he deny it? He was no superman and had never pretended to be one, not even in his movies. Sure, he was always doing heroic things in his films, but nothing any ordinary person wouldn't do or try to do in similar situations, otherwise his movies wouldn't have the appeal they had. Was he doing something heroic even now? He did feel as if he was in some kind of life or death struggle with an unseen enemy, one that he was destined to lose, though there might be some kind of over-all triumph at the end, like at the Alamo. Perhaps he was just losing his marbles; there was a history of insanity in his family. His paternal grandfather, a decorated Civil War veteran no less, had gone off his rocker in his dotage and had to be committed, the Duke's deepest, darkest, most shameful family secret and something he never talked about with anyone. Was that same thing happening to him? He wasn't as old as his grandfather, but that was no guarantee. Maybe instead of being dead he had just gone nuts which would explain things too, even better, except that the Duke didn't feel crazy any more than he felt dead, but would he be able to tell in either case? Jeez, maybe he had both lost his marbles and gone to his reward!
The Duke stopped, raised his arms to the night and screamed three times: "Aaaah! Aaaaaaah! Aaaaaaaagh!" which reminded him of the scene in the Searchers almost at the end when he had finally found Natalie Wood, her innocence and purity shining at him despite her ravishment by the redskins, and he had picked her up, raising her high off the ground under both arms as if trying to put her in heaven and restore her lost virginity or preparing to send her to hell by dashing her brains out on the ground, and of course he had put Natalie back down, picked her up in his arms and taken her home, what else could you do in a Hollywood movie? He felt that same sort of conflict now that he had been paid to fake as an actor, of being torn not knowing what to do, go forwards or backwards, fish or cut bait, except this time the issue wasn't as clear as the disposition of a girl child kidnapped by red savages, this time it wasn't clear at all what he was searching for out here in this nighttime desert nothingness, if anything, it wasn't clear at all what foe he hoped to redeem himself by finding and defeating. Hell, maybe he was just taking a walk, why make things more complicated than they really were? Except he knew that he was trying to find something in this moonlit darkness and could feel it was there by not being there which made no sense at all, except the Duke could feel there wasn't that much difference between him and the emptiness he was surrounded by as if he and it were all the same thing somehow, impossible as that was.
Christ, did he need a smoke. He fished in the pockets of his jacket and found some matches and a crumpled pack of Camels. Not his brand, but who cared? The Duke lit up and stood there calmly smoking trying to figure out his next move, hell, maybe being dead wasn't so bad if he could still imagine doing all the things he liked to do, if he was dead and not out of his mind or something else, then the wind started picking up. Uh-oh. In a matter of seconds the Duke found himself in the middle of a full-blown sandstorm like the one in the Three Godfathers, another damn desert movie, at least that one a western, in which he, Pedro Armendariz, and Harry Carey Jr. had been on the run after robbing a bank and gotten lost in a sandstorm, shortly thereafter finding a pregnant Mildred Natwick who died giving birth to a baby boy, thus making them the Three Godfathers referred to in the movie's title. Well, they couldn't all be gems, at least it was a John Ford picture. The Duke turned and started heading back to where he remembered Abu-Meniar's camp to be, now preoccupied with mere survival instead of more philosophical questions. The wind blew the sand everywhere, in his clothes, eyes, mouth, no matter how much he tried to cover up and the Duke was wondering how much longer he was going to have to endure this, wishing he was back in his quarters resting in the king-sized bed the movie company had arranged to be brought over for his comfort, not that he had asked for any such luxury, he liked roughing it but did appreciate the consideration due him as the number one male box office star in the world and wasn't about to turn it down, when he was almost run over by a jeep which stopped just in time, motor revving.
"Hop in!" the driver said, and the Duke did so gratefully, no questions asked, climbing into the front passenger seat then almost being thrown out as the vehicle took off abruptly.
"Captain Bob Borneo's the name, fightin', lovin', and man-killin's my game," the driver introduced himself, sticking a hand out, which the Duke shook. "Lucky I saw you lighting a cigarette before this sandstorm started, Mr. Wayne, or I might not have found you. Are you on a mission?"
Captain Borneo was wearing a flight jacket, the cap and insignia of an American air force captain, but if that wasn't a fake handlebar mustache, the Duke would eat a can of film. "Do I know you?"
"I don't think so, Mr. Wayne. We've never met before, that I can recall."
"You were looking for me?"
"Indeed I was, Mr. Wayne," said Captain Borneo, as the jeep ran over a bush becoming briefly airborne before landing with a bone-jarring crash that rattled every one of the Duke's fifty year old bones. "You have an appointment with destiny. Sounds like a hooker I once knew."
"Oh? What kind of destiny?"
"Yours, of course. What other kind could there be?"
Riddles. "Look, friend, if you could just drop me off back in town, I would appreciate it. I'll pay you."
"No can do, Duke. Much as I'd like to oblige, I can't. You're not going to shirk your duty again, are you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" the Duke asked, holding onto the dash with both hands, his eyes slitted as if he was reprising his impression of Genghis Khan, oddly or not so oddly having a good idea of what this guy was referring to.
"Your lack of service in WWII. You stayed home and made movies and movie starlets by the score, while your fellow countrymen were fighting and dying in far-flung foreign lands, not that any of us held your good fortune against you, we would have done the same things given the opportunity. And you did have a legitimate reason to stay behind, sole support of your family, and it would have been a shame to temporarily give up your career just when it was starting to take off as other actors did and admittedly the war movies you made were valuable propaganda tools whose importance cannot be underestimated and ironically if you had fought in the war you probably wouldn't have become the screen legend you are now, but the fact remains that you didn't go when so many others did and gave all they had. Now you have a chance to eliminate that blemish on your record, if it can be considered such, and make amends."
"By fighting on the side of liberty and justice, taking an active part in one of the major events of the twentieth century, though not as major as WWII. I know you'll do fine. Just be yourself."
"Wait a minute, buddy, I know who you are now. You're Hummer Drinkwine, we met earlier at Abdullah's."
"Never heard of the fellow."
The jeep stopped abruptly, almost throwing the Duke into the windshield. "Here we are," said Captain Borneo, getting out.
The Duke got out too. The sandstorm had stopped and they were standing in front of a ten foot high chain link fence topped with razor wire that seemed to stretch indefinitely.
"Do you need to be brought up to speed?" Capt. Borneo asked.
"Brought up to speed on what?"
"On the reason for this fence."
"To keep camels out?
"Good guess. As you may or may not be aware, next door in Algeria a revolution is going on, the native inhabitants against their French colonial oppressors. The natives are fighting for their freedom and independence just as we did almost two hundred years ago. The French have put up this surprisingly effective fence to keep the rebels out, their bases being in neighboring countries such as Tunisia, but I can slip you across. Would you care to assist the Algerians in their struggle, giving them the benefit of your leadership?"
The Duke looked at Drinkwine\Borneo like he was nuts. "Are you kidding?"
"Don't you stand for freedom and liberty?"
"It's not my fight."
"Standard American isolationism. Was that also why you stayed out of WWII?"
"I did my part."
"Ummm. I agree, though, that the Algerian revolution is not nearly on the same scale as a world war. There is no reason for you to become involved personally. I just thought I would give you that option. Imagine, John Wayne fighting side by side with Ben Bella and the rest of the Algerian guerillas! Now that would make one hell of a movie, except it would be for real. It would become an instant cause celebre, as the French say."
"I'll handle my own career, if you don't mind."
"Suit yourself, but you're missing a once in a lifetime chance. You'd earn the instant respect of the oppressed all over the world. You'd be even bigger than you are now as a movie star. How can you pass something like that up?"
"Why don't you go fight with the Algerians?" suggested the Duke.
"It wouldn't have the same effect as you taking their side, would it? It also wouldn't prove anything. So, you have no interest in my proposition?"
"Well, I tried. Just proves the old saying, doesn't it?"
"What old saying?"
"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it. Come on."
The Duke followed Drinkwine back to the jeep and they got in. Drinkwine started it and they took off, away from the fence.
"Ever heard of Gorgeous George?" asked Drinkwine\Borneo.
"Glad to see that you're a fan. He'll be the special guest referee for your match tonight. Maybe you can get him to show you a few pointers before it begins."
The Duke looked over. "I'm not fighting anybody."
"Not chickening out, are you?"
The Duke gave Drinkwine his most forbidding stare. "Why don't you stop this jeep and we'll find out who's chicken."
Captain Borneo laughed good-naturedly. "That's the spirit! Just save that attitude for when you need it. But don't worry, it's all been fixed, just like everything is fixed, perhaps, one way or another. There's no way you can lose. You just have to make it look good, which I'm sure will be no problem with all those fake movie fights you've been in."
"Look, pal, I don't know what you're talking about, but I'm not fighting anybody. Just take me back to town."
"Anything you say, Duke, anything you say."
The jeep sped on across barren, unbroken terrain, then its headlights revealed a building up ahead, a large warehouse with corrugated metal walls and roof. They coasted to a stop.
The Duke sighed. He really wasn't in the mood. He turned to give Drinkwine one more chance before he punched his lights out, and saw that Drinkwine was holding a gun on him.
"I hear your opponent's one tough hombre," said Drinkwine, casually aiming his pistol at the Duke's belly. "He's a pro, though, so don't worry. He knows what to do. You've just got to make it look good, but even if you don't it won't change the outcome. Nothing can, supposedly, though I try to keep an open mind myself."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"If you don't know, I can't tell you. Now get out."
The Duke got out of the jeep.
"Wish I could stay and watch this exhibition, Duke, but there are other matters that require my immediate personal attention," said Capt. Borneo, putting away his gun. "My only piece of advice to you is that if your opponent fights dirty, just give it right back to him. Ciao!"
Borneo gave the Duke a snappy salute, then took off. The Duke stepped back from the spray of the jeep, not sorry to see the crazy bastard go. He looked at the warehouse again. There were no other buildings in the vicinity. There was a door, which he supposed was unlocked. He didn't especially want to go inside, but didn't see what other choice he had. Maybe there was someone inside who could give him a ride or directions back to Ghadames, since he was lost now, or maybe there was a radio he could use to call for help, the only thing the Duke knew for sure was that there was no way he was going to wind up fighting someone no matter what the provocation. Sure, he had a reputation to uphold, but he fought on his own terms, not someone else's. If someone wanted to pick a fight with him---well, it was best not to think of that. He would just have to hold his temper somehow.
The Duke squared his shoulders and marched towards the door. It was unlocked as he knew it would be and he stepped inside, unconsciously balling his hands because while by nature he was a peaceable man, a quiet man just like the picture of the same name he had made with Maureen O'Hara, now there was a woman, he didn't back down from anyone no matter what the consequences, unless the sonuvabitch pulled a gun on him, and armed with this self-knowledge he felt oddly at peace with himself and ready for anything.