Flight

Previous Chapter | Contents | Next Chapter

           Unscathed, the Duke stood tall over his fallen foe. At the last second he had remembered his hairpiece tucked away in a pocket and somehow managed to jam it in the barrel of the gun when he had felt himself losing his struggle with Drinkwine, otherwise he would be the one lying in a heap on the ground. The good guy had won again, no surprise to the Duke though this time he had to admit that it had been too close a call for his comfort.

           "Is he dead?" asked Sophia.

           Startled, the Duke thought Sophia meant him for a moment, then realized his mistake. "I don't know. Kind of looks like it."

           Before the Duke could make a closer examination of Drinkwine's condition, there was the sound of running feet and two Arabs, one in a suit and tie, the other in ordinary clothes, burst into the courtyard from the house, looking ready for anything and only stopping when they saw Sophia. "Are you all right, Miss Loren?" the more official looking one asked. "We heard an explosion."

           "It's all right, Yasir," said Sophia. "Everything's all right. This man was going to kill John Wayne. He tried to shoot him!"

           Yasir bent down and picked up what remained of Drinkwine's gun. "He must have used the wrong caliber of ammunition. A not so uncommon mistake, eh, Hamad?"

           "I jammed the barrel," the Duke said. "That's why his gun blew up."

           "Oh? With your finger? Some dirt?"

           "No, something else."

           Drinkwine groaned, rolling over on his back. "I knew I wouldn't be able to shoot you, I just knew it. It isn't your fate, your destiny, which means...uuuhhngg."

           "The nearest hospital is in Tripoli, but I will do what I can. Who is this young man?" Yasir eyed the Muammar suspiciously.

           "This is Muammar," said Sophia. "He tried to help me find Mr. Wayne earlier, I forgot to mention that."

           "What is wrong with him? He looks dazed."

           "I landed on him when the camel I was riding threw me off. I hit him pretty hard."

           "Ah. Hamad and I figured that you had gotten tired of waiting for us and taken the camel to go and look for Mr. Wayne. Once more our kingdom is indebted to your unselfish bravery. You are a truly remarkable woman, Miss Loren."

           "Thank you."

           "Strange. Didn't I see you with this man earlier tonight, at the private club where I first found you?"

           "I thought he might know where Mr. Wayne was. I was trying to get some information from him."

           "Of course, forgive me for asking." Yasir turned to the Duke, clearing his throat. "Mr. Wayne, on behalf of my country and his highness King Idris al-Senussi the First, let me apologize profusely for any indignities you may have suffered at the hands of this provocateur. It was no doubt part of some plot to damage relations between our two countries. I guarantee that any perpetrators will be caught and punished most severely. Let me further add that I hope the rest of your stay in my country will be uneventful, Allah willing."

           "Amen to that," said the Duke. "I could use a little less excitement."

           Yasir turned back to Sophia. "Miss Loren, I am at your service. The King will be even more boundless in his gratitude once he learns of your help in this matter. Is there anything else I can do for you? Give you and your companions a lift somewhere, perhaps?"

           "No, thank you," said Sophia, a little too quickly for the Duke. "We can walk, it will give us a chance to collect ourselves. You've been very kind, Yasir."

           "My pleasure, Miss Loren. Good night, Mr. Wayne."

           "Good night."

           Yasir gave his companion a nod. "Hamad?"

           Hamad reached down and picked Drinkwine up, slinging him over a shoulder, causing Drinkwine to groan again. "I knew it, I just knew it," Drinkwine whispered, as he was taken out.

           "I'm sorry about refusing the ride," said Sophia, "but his driver is, well, inexperienced. It would have been a very rough trip."

           The Duke nodded. "You know the King?"

           "We met in the desert a couple hours ago."

           "He wanted to meet you that badly?"

           "Well, not really. He just needed some help with his confidence."

           Confidence in regards to what, the Duke wanted to ask, but decided it would be impolitic. He observed Muammar staring out into space the way a football player did after getting his bell rung, a look he still remembered well from his USC days. "We'd better get this kid tucked away."

           "We can put him on Michaelina---oh, she's gone."

           "Who's Michaelina?"

           "The camel, I just gave her that name for some reason. The noise from the gun exploding must have scared her off."

           The Duke looked down where Drinkwine had dropped the gun after it had exploded, and thought he saw some remains of his toupee and felt an inexplicable urge to pick them up, but restrained himself. "We don't need the camel. It looks like he can walk, you take one arm, I'll take the other. We'll bring him to the hotel and find someone to take charge of him."

           Muammar said something in Arabic. "All right, kid, let's go," the Duke said, taking one of Muammar's arms firmly but gently and with Sophia's help leading him into the house past a projector on the floor and an overturned table, then outside into an alley. "That way?" the Duke asked Sophia, pointing right.

           "I think so."

           They started down the alleyway, Muammar coming along compliantly. No one spoke and the Duke felt strangely tongue-tied as if there was some tension between him and Sophia because she was such a beautiful young woman and he couldn't really say what he wanted. Despite the fact that they had been on location together for almost a month now, they still didn't know each other that well, for which the Duke blamed himself, he was just as insecure as any actor and it took him awhile to get used to someone he had never worked with before, especially someone so new and attractive, already a star in their own right who might not have the proper respect for him, but that wasn't the problem with Sophia at all, so what was he nervous about? The Duke glanced at Sophia's profile which somehow seemed to have a silver aura or halo, then suddenly, amazingly, they were locked in a passionate embrace and he was pouring his heart out, though in a manly fashion, telling Sophia how much he loved her and how she was the only woman for him, calling her Dita, the name of her street urchin character in the ridiculous melodrama they were making, holding Dita\Sophia in his arms carefully so as not to muss up her make-up or ruin her camera angle as if they were doing a scene, the Duke giving her all the sweet talk he could think of and doing a fine job of it too as far as he could tell, after all he'd had plenty of practice what with three wives and countless shorter liaisons---ah, Marlene!---too numerous to mention, but oddly Sophia wasn't reacting to his passion one way or another as he confessed his feeling, her face cold, unyielding, expressionless, then to the Duke's horror and astonishment, Sophia seemed to melt away in his very hands as if he had never been holding her at all, becoming wisps of smoke that blew away, the Duke then becoming aware of someone behind him, his wife Pilar, arms crossed and stone-faced, holding a cast iron skillet, an instrument that perhaps not coincidentally Sophia used to clobber him in one scene of Legend when his character got obstreperously drunk, if he remembered correctly, but the frying pan Pilar was holding didn't look like the prop one and from her expression the Duke didn't need words to know that she was aware of his attempted infidelity and was not amused, as wives usually weren't.

           "No, Pilar---!" the Duke was able to get out, before BWANGGGGG and his head felt like one of the bells at the Notre Dame cathedral being rung by the mad bellringer Quasimodo as played by Charles Laughton, the reverberations echoing endlessly between his ears and threatening to shake him apart into his smallest constituent particles, dust to dust, and the Duke instinctively covered up and fell to his knees to protect himself from the next blow.

           "Mr. Wayne! Mr. Wayne! Are you all right?"

           The Duke cautiously peeked up between his arms. His wife was nowhere to be seen and Sophia had returned, once more whole and real, Muammar beside her still out of it. The Duke got to his feet.

           "You didn't happen to see my wife anywhere around, did you? A petite, black haired Mexican woman armed with a frying pan?"

           "No, Mr. Wayne. There's just us."

           The Duke rubbed his jaw. "I guess I imagined it, then. That drug Drinkwine slipped me packs quite a wallop. What did he call it, LSD something or other?"

           "LSD-25, I think."

           "Hope the general public never gets a hold of it, could cause a lot of problems. Hey, where's he going?"

           Muammar was walking away down the alley with purposeful strides. "Muammar!" Sophia called out, but he did not respond. "We've got to follow him, he might not know what he's doing," said Sophia.

           "Yeah," the Duke said, knowing it was no use to argue with a woman whose protective instincts were aroused, when what he really wanted to say was that Muammar could take care of himself. They followed Muammar down the alley, then down another which led into the flat rubbly darkness of the desert.

           "Muammar, where are you going?" cried Sophia.

           "To my destiny," Muammar called back. "I am tired of waiting."

           "How do you know it isn't back here?" said the Duke, seeing how upset Sophia was and trying to be helpful.

           Muammar stopped and turned around. "I have a feeling that I should kill you," he informed the Duke. "You are my true enemy."

           "Look, sonny, we've both had a rough night. Can't this wait until morning?"

           "Insolent western dog, let's see how patronizing you are once you taste my cold steel!"

           Muammar felt around in his robe like he had lost something.

           "I think you left it back at the house," said the Duke, realizing that Muammar was looking for his dagger. "Too bad."

           "Don't hurt him!" begged Sophia, to the Duke's disbelief. "He's just a boy."

           "I'm not going to hurt anyone," the Duke said, looking away just long enough for Muammar to surprise him with a flying tackle and once more the Duke found himself on the ground wrestling with a determined foe.

           "Stop it! Stop it!" Sophia demanded, hovering over them.

           The Duke put Muammar in a headlock. "Kid, if you don't calm down, I will hurt you."

           "Like the sands of the desert, we will swallow you up," sputtered Muammar, struggling futilely. "Under my leadership, the Arab people will unite and overthrow your imperialist chains. Today Libya, tomorrow the rest of the Arab world!"

           The Duke wondered if he was going to have to punch this kid to quiet him down, God, Sophia would love that, also wondering if this was just another hallucination he was having, then he felt the ground start to shake underneath him. What the? If the Duke didn't know better, he could swear that this was the unmistakable prelude to a ... to a ...

           "Stampede!" the Duke bellowed, jumping up and dumping Muammar. He looked around for cover, but saw only a crude earthen well that would have to do. He grabbed Sophia by the hand as the ground trembled beneath them and a rumbling noise like thunder interspersed with the desperate cries of frightened animals approached ever closer.

           "Don't forget Muammar," said Sophia. "We can't just leave him."

           The Duke wasn't so sure that he agreed with that point of view, it having become obvious to him that this desert punk had no great love for either him or America, but he supposed Sophia was right. "C'mon, kid," the Duke growled, grabbing Muammar by his collar and together with Sophia they made their way to the protection of the well, where they awaited the storm.

           When the stampede arrived, fortunately pouring past and not over them, the Duke was not surprised to see that it was camels, hundreds of them, baying, gurgling, but he was surprised to see that they all had ropes in their mouths as if they were pulling something, then he heard a familiar voice offering encouragement.

           "Put your backs into it boys, for the Revolution! Hughes will help us if we help him! Faster, faster!" It was Omar, in the middle of the surging sea of camel flesh and the Duke felt an unaccountable urge to help his brothers as if he was indeed part or all camel in some way, but it wasn't his fight and he wasn't going to be just some private so he stayed where he was. Then the noise of the camels was swallowed up by another sound, the sound of roaring engines and whirling propeller blades. The Duke could not believe his eyes when a wing and the fuselage of the largest plane he had ever seen came into view. It was as big as a ship or ten story building, bigger!

           "What the hell is that?" the Duke said involuntarily.

           "The Spruce Goose," answered Sophia. "Or the Hercules Flying boat, as Mr. Hughes likes to call it."

           "You know him?"

           "Our paths have crossed."

           Looking up, the Duke thought he saw Hughes in the cockpit, the billionaire's face a study in concentration as he fought to get the Spruce Goose aloft, the plane bumping along despite the best efforts of camel and machine power. Along the fuselage was a series of lighted windows in which were faces recognizable to the Duke, Gorgeous George, the still masked Masked Marvel, his former old friends Hedda Hopper and Ward Bond, and the faces of assorted extras, as if they were all hitching a ride home now that their job was done.

           A shot rang out. The Duke wondered if somebody was shooting at him, then saw it was Achmed, dropping his musket and running after the plane waving a scimitar.

           "Stop! Bring back our camels!" Achmed ran up to the plane and stabbed his sword into it. To the Duke's surprise, the sword did not break or clang off, but instead stuck into the plane as if it was made out of wood, and as if Achmed's pin prick was the final boost it needed, the Hercules Flying Boat magnificently ascended into the air, clearing the ground by a good ten feet, and sailed off into the night in a westerly direction, Achmed still hanging on to his sword trying to pull it free.

           The Duke got up from behind the well. "Am I imagining things, or did you see that too?"

           "See what?" asked Sophia. "The plane?"

           "Everything, the plane, the camels, what the hell is going on? Has the world gone crazy?"

           Before Sophia could reply, a jeep drove up, with Abdullah behind the wheel and Abu-Meniar beside him. "Have you seen Achmed?" the greybeard asked.

           "He hitched a ride," the Duke said, dropping into his familiar and comforting tough-guy persona, hooking a thumb over his shoulder. "Thataway."

           "Poor Achmed," said Abdullah, shaking his head sadly. "He doesn't have the sense Allah gave goats. He thinks Hughes is trying to steal our camels, when all they did was make a deal, complete details to be worked out later. I tried to explain, but Achmed has no head for business."

           "You know Howard Hughes?" the Duke asked.

           "We are old friends. I represent his North African interests. Money is, after all, the universal language."

           "Muammar," his father said sharply. "What are you doing?"

           "Giving thanks to Allah for the glory that will be mine, when I drive the infidels from our lands," answered Muammar, bowing on his knees. "Allahu Akbar, I will be great!"

           Abu-Meniar and Abdullah shared a look of exasperation. "Get in the jeep, Muammar," his father commanded. "Save your dreams for later."

           Muammar stopped praying and climbed sourly into the back. "Can we give you a ride somewhere?" asked Abdullah.

           "No, thanks," the Duke said. "It's a nice night, we can walk."

           "As you wish. It's a little cold out for me. If you're trying to go back to the hotel, just go straight, then take the third alley to your left."

           "Thanks. Uh, by the way," the Duke hemmed and hawed. "About the camels ..."

           "Yes?"

           "How do you know they made a deal with Hughes?"

           "I was the middleman. I have a natural talent for such transactions. If there's anything you need while you're in Libya, just let me know. If I can't get it for you, no one can."

           "But they're camels! How can they make a deal with anyone?"

           "More things in heaven than earth," Abdullah said, startling the Duke. "You believe that, don't you?"

           "I don't know what to believe any more."

           "Very wise. May Allah smile upon you, and you too, Miss Loren, even more than he already has. I bid you good night."

           Abdullah backed up and drove away. The Duke wished that this whole night hadn't happened, and probably some of it hadn't, he just didn't know which parts. There was no way real life could be this screwy, it just wasn't possible. There were good guys and bad guys and a definite right and wrong and no one could tell him different, things just weren't that complicated, otherwise---Christ, he didn't even want to think about it.

           The Duke sighed. "Shall we go?" he asked Sophia.

           "Let's," agreed Sophia, and they headed back.


Previous Chapter | Contents | Next Chapter