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           Veering into a deserted alley, listing more than usual after a night on the town, a night which was surely just getting started, the Duke was determined not to let anyone see him this toasted, especially any damn tourists that might be lurking around, not that he was any better than the next man or woman, hell, it was part of his popular appeal as he well knew that he didn't put on airs or try to be something he was not, but still, he had an image to maintain and that image didn't include stumbling blind drunk down midnight alleys in foreign lands, though he had as much right to fun as anyone as far as he was concerned, if not more right---didn't he? The Duke knew he wasn't thinking too clearly at this point, but it didn't matter, he could handle it, and---Jesus, what had he just stepped in? Never mind, he could handle it all, whatever he had just stepped in, liberal Commie simps, being blind drunk, gorgeous frigid Italian co-stars, his new wife Pilar, his expanding gut, he could handle it all because, goddamit, though he didn't like to swear, he didn't like to take the name of the Lord in vain, he really didn't, but goddamnitall to hell, he was John Wayne "---John Fucking Wayne!---" he roared at the top of his lungs to anyone or anything that might care to hear or answer in this godforsaken excuse for a movie location, cursed with the most desirable woman in the world---Jesus, was Sophia hot, hotter than the desert they were stuck in!---for a female lead who seemed completely indifferent to the ol' Duke charm, though admittedly he hadn't laid any on yet, not that much, anyway, but again it didn't matter because he was "---John Fucking Wayne!---" he roared once more to the night at the top of his lungs, idol to millions, champion of right, standard bearer of American manhood, tough but fair, kind to women and children, undying loyal to friends but worse than death to his enemies, and he could---

           ---lick any man in the house, was the thought he was going to finish, but before he could he was interrupted by a scream of pure terror that he recognized as his own, caused by the fact that he was unexpectedly sliding out of control down a slippery slope he could better smell than see until he came to an abrupt halt when all six-foot-four, 250 pounds plus of him pitched forward into a pile of dung. "Shit," the Duke muttered, because that's what he had fallen into, face-first, and not just any pile of crap, either, but the most evil smelling heap of excrement he had ever whiffed, which was going some. Thank God none of his Hollywood buddies were around to see this mishap, they'd never let him live it down.

           "Are you just going to lie there?"

           The Duke pushed himself up, brushing himself off, and looked around. Who had said that? In the shadowy moonlit darkness, he could see a handful of stars, a couple hovels, and the outline of a hump. A hump? Trying to focus, he saw the familiar homely face of what was fondly and sometimes not so fondly known as the ship of the desert: a camel. The camel came closer, moving its bulk on spindly but powerful legs with a slow, awkward grace.

           "You're bombed. Someone put something extra in your drink?"

           Whoa. The Duke could have sworn that he had seen the beast's lips move as if it was really talking to him. He knew that wasn't possible, but damn, it had sure seemed like it. Had he reached some new level of intoxication that he had never experienced before?

           The camel hunkered down in front of him, folding up its front legs first, then its hindquarters. "The great Duke Wayne," the camel chuckled, regarding him pleasantly. "Gooned to the gills. Can't hold your booze, eh?"

           In a moment of drunken clarity, the Duke realized that either he was imagining all of this, or the damn camel really was talking to him. Or, one more possibility, it was someone in a camel suit. Aha, that had to be it, some sonuvabitch in a camel suit, maybe put up to it by his good friend and current director Henry Hathaway, trying to get a few cheap laughs at his expense. The bastard might even be filming this somehow, though in this darkness there wouldn't be much of a picture, so maybe just the sound was being recorded. "All right, pal, who are you?" the Duke asked.

           "Omar. Omar the camel. I guess that's my name since camels don't really have names, being just camels."

           What a wiseass. The Duke had to admit, though, it was one helluva costume. He'd never seem a more realistic one. Even the snout looked real, it didn't look rubbery at all. He wondered who these two guys were, since it had to be two guys like a fake horse suit, one guy in front doing the steering and the other guy bringing up the rear. This costume was a lot better than any horse suit he'd ever seen, though, or any ape suit too, for that matter. Hathaway and the crew must have gone to a lot of trouble to pull this prank off and the Duke could appreciate a good practical joke as well as the next man, even if it was on him, so screw it, what was he worried about? He would just have to get even sometime.

           "You don't think I'm a real camel, do you?" the camel asked. "You probably think I'm a hallucination, or someone in a camel suit."

           The Duke deliberated. Since he was in on the joke now and wanted to be a regular guy and go along with the gag since that was his image and he was a regular guy, how should he respond? It took him only a moment to decide. "Hell no," the Duke drawled. "I think you're a real camel, and a helluva fine camel at that, too. You're the best damn camel I've ever seen, in fact."

           "Please, John, you're making me blush, which is impossible for a camel to do," Omar the camel said, fluttering his eyelashes. "I know you're not serious, but that's all right. More things in heaven than earth, as they say. Milton, wasn't it?"

           Milton. The Duke had known a guy named Milton once, a cowboy extra he'd worked with in the thirties who'd got his leg broke one day when he was thrown from a horse and never worked again. For some reason that memory made the Duke feel very sad and nauseous, then he was more than nauseous and he was on his feet and throwing up, bent over with his hands on his knees, feet spread apart as a black torrent gushed from his mouth like a stream from a fire hose, and it was as if not only was he vomiting the liquor he had consumed so far that night, but also every bad memory or experience he'd ever had as an actor, every humiliating, two-bit singing Sandy cowboy role he'd had to take in his early days to get ahead or just survive, every vicious Commie review he'd ever suffered, every job he'd missed out on, every agent, director, or studio boss who'd ignored him and sometimes still did, all of it, everything seemed to be coming out of him, and then he felt a heavy, panting weight added to his back and a thick, slobbering, doglike tongue obscenely worming its way into his right ear. It was the camel, and its amorous intentions were unmistakable.

           Enough was enough. The Duke shrugged the camel off his back, then caught it in the head with a roundhouse right that almost broke his hand. The camel wobbled for a moment, then toppled over in a great heap, making a satisfying, ground-shaking thump. "Let that be a lesson to you," the Duke proclaimed, standing over his vanquished foe, whether hallucination, real camel, or two guys in a camel suit, he didn't care anymore. "Don't ever fuck with me again, and don't fuck with America, either."

           The camel struggled back up into a sitting position. "I'm sorry," Omar apologized. "I'm still one of the lower orders. When you bent over, I got excited. I know that's no excuse. Anyway, there's something I've got to tell you. Don't trust those guys you were drinking with earlier. They don't have your best interests at heart, especially Drinkwine. They're just out for themselves."

           The Duke swayed unsteadily, debating whether or not he should rip the camel's head off to see who or what was underneath. He decided it wouldn't be worth the effort. Without further hesitation, the Duke reached down and grabbed his bottle, which he had dropped during his fall and fortunately had not broken, then headed out into the rapidly cooling desert night away from town, having no idea where he was going, but determined to get there just the same.

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