After leaving the Duke, Sophia went to her hotel room, shed her robe and harem girl costume---thank God Mr. Wayne hadn't seen her in that!---made sure her door and all the windows were locked and shut tight, her custom whenever she slept in a strange place far from home, then climbed into bed and fell asleep. Almost immediately Sophia felt as if she couldn't breathe and tried to wake back up, but for some reason couldn't, not completely. Disjointed, nightmarish images flitted through her mind, of people fighting, dying, screaming, but most of all there was the feeling of suffocation, of being unable to breathe. She would rise briefly to the surface of consciousness but would always fall back, and Sophia realized that if she didn't wake up, she was going to die. She felt a sharp crack of pain and found herself on the tiled floor, somehow she had managed to throw herself out of bed. She started crawling for the door, alternately passing out and waking up, it seemed impossible that she could make it, there was no air, but with her last bit of strength she reached the door, opened it and fell outside into the hallway where, as luck would have it, Rossano Brazzi was returning to his own room.
"Sophia! Are you all right?"
Sophia could not reply immediately. She had never felt so close to death before, not even when she had been caught in a nighttime bombing raid as a child when the sirens had failed to go off and she had woken up to bombs raining down on her and her family. "I could not breathe," she told Rossano, gasping for air. "I thought I was only dreaming."
"Help!" Rossano began shouting, taking Sophia in his arms. "Help!"
Doors began opening and soon the hallway was filled with concerned people, one of them a doctor with the film company who hadn't had much to do until now and immediately began tending to Sophia. Some of the crew went into her room and came back out choking, saying something about a faulty space heater.
"Close one, eh, Sophia?" Rossano clucked sympathetically in Italian. "Who knew movie making was such a dangerous business, at least off the set. I remember one time..."
Sophia wasn't listening. She had the nagging feeling that somehow her memory had been wiped clean of certain recent events, but couldn't remember what they were. She almost asked Rossano if anything strange had happened to her that night, but realized that would sound foolish and forgot her concerns, letting Rossano and the others help her up and lead her off to the rest of her life.
* * * * *
Muammar sat outside his father's tent looking up at the stars. He was supposed to be sleeping, but was too excited. He was filled with a sense of destiny, the conviction that some day he would be a great man, Allah willing.
Muammar thought back to his earliest memories, the sounds of tanks and the screams of Stuka dive bombers as the two great foreign powers, the British and the Germans, had fought for supremacy in the Libyan desert. Some day he too would command such forces, sweeping across the civilized world and bringing the accursed Western non-believers to their knees, teaching them the proper respect for Islam and Arab culture, especially the infidel John Wayne, lower than a camel's belly, whose throat he should have cut when he had the chance, but obviously that wasn't meant to be because it hadn't happened, so Muammar worried no more about it. Perhaps, Allah willing, he would be granted a second chance, if not to strike at John Wayne than at the dog's country, the United States of America, and he would not miss that opportunity.
Unrolling his bedroll, Muammar made himself as comfortable as possible, dreams of power and glory still filling his head. When he became the ruler of his country, as he was sure he would some day, Allah be praised, he would have much better accommodations than these, but he vowed that he would never forget his humble beginnings. No matter what comfortable, even palatial lodgings he would occupy in the future, he would always keep a tent nearby to remind himself of his Bedouin origins, and to remind others as well. He was a man of the people, unlike that lackey to foreign interests King Idris, whose days were surely numbered, and Muammar was determined to lead his Libyan countrymen to greatness under the banner of pan-Arabism, whether they wanted to go there or not. There was no other choice as far as he was concerned, and Muammar had no qualms about using a strong hand to achieve his ends.
Just before he fell asleep, the last thoughts of the future ruler of Libya revolved around the Italian movie star Sophia Loren, wondering if their paths would cross again. He imagined various scenarios, all of which ended with them satisfying their mutual lust on each others' bodies, then parting regretfully to go their separate ways. One of these scenarios aroused the future ruler sufficiently to spill his seed into the surrounding desert, which accepted the contribution silently and without complaint, immediately resuming its wait for the lost green days of its past, by the grace of God, for which all things wait.
* * * * *
The Duke woke up in the middle of a strange dream. Once more in the role of Temujin, the Mongol warrior king, he was rolling around in the desert doing a fight scene with some anonymous actor, which was all right but there was something wrong with the sand they were rolling around in, it was glowing like it was radioactive and he couldn't brush it off when he stopped fighting, it just stuck to him and he breathed some of it in, getting it in his lungs, and that was when he had woke up. He didn't know where he was for a moment, the dream had seemed that real, then he heard someone knock timidly on his door.
"Mr. Wayne? It's five-thirty. Will you be having breakfast with the others?"
The Duke croaked a reply in the affirmative, hoping there wouldn't be any more knocking, and mercifully there wasn't. He laid on his king-size bed looking up the ceiling, one leg off, arms flung out as if he was dead. Christ, he must have really tied one on last night, though he couldn't remember the details. He hoped that he hadn't done anything too stupid, though in this desert boondocks, what sort of trouble could he have gotten into?
The Duke tried to sit up and realized there was a weight on his chest. Fumbling around, he discovered that it was a bronze medallion, hanging from his neck by a chain. On one side was a design of the three Revolutionary war patriots marching forward carrying the flag and playing a fife and drum, while on the reverse was a cowboy riding a horse, tall in the saddle. It was a fine medal, but where the hell had he picked it up? Had he won some kind of contest?
Groaning, the Duke sat up, swinging his other leg off the bed. He didn't feel like working today, but that didn't matter. He had a reputation to live up to, and that reputation didn't include taking a day off or being late for his scenes just because he was slightly under the weather, that wouldn't be professional, and the Duke prided himself on his professionalism. He just wished he could remember where he had gone or what he had done last night, but everything was a blank. Well, maybe someone would clue him in later, that was what usually happened.
Without worrying about things further, the Duke took off the medallion, tossed it on the bed, then got up and headed for the door. Before he got there, however, he was gripped by a strange fear that stopped him in his tracks. He didn't know why, but he had a terrible feeling that something unimaginably horrible had been done to him, or, more specifically, to a favorite part of his anatomy, old Bull. The Duke looked down; his pants were unbuckled, and his crotch felt very, very sticky. He didn't feel any pain, but his groin felt suspiciously numb, as if he had been anesthetized in that region. Oh God, no, no! A lesser man would have collapsed, but the Duke remained standing. He imagined the bloody mess he would find where once his masculine equipment had been. Had he been that drunk? Who would have done such a terrible thing to him, and for what reason?
Taking a deep breath, the Duke finally pulled down his pants. No blood, which was a good sign, but there was still his shorts. Slowly, he pulled them down, hesitating when he came to the moment of truth. He closed his eyes, praying to God that he was not going to see what he expected to see, then gave his shorts the final tug. To his immense relief, the Duke saw that old Bull was still there, he had not been mutilated and was still in one piece. The stickiness he had felt was nothing more than dried piss, apparently he had soiled himself at some point during the night. Why had he been so sure that it was something more drastic? The Duke didn't know, but he had the strong suspicion that his concern had not been without reason.
Pulling himself together, the Duke ventured outside his dwelling, squinting in the morning sun. It was already quite warm and soon would be hellishly hot. He didn't have anything against deserts particularly, but why would anyone choose to live in such an environment? Unless they didn't have a choice somehow, a notion which didn't sit well with the Duke. Everyone had a choice, unless you were a helpless infant or something. Well, he didn't know. Sniffing, the Duke noticed something smelled, then realized it was him. Holy Christ, he had all the fragrance of a manure pile, as if he'd spent some of last night rolling around in one. He must have been bombed out of his mind, so perhaps it was merciful that he couldn't remember any details.
He spotted an assistant director going somewhere. "Hey, bud!" the Duke called out, the a.d.'s name escaping him for the moment. "Could you get me some water for my shower? I stink like a pig. Just get the boys to fill up some jugs for me."
"Sure thing, Mr. Wayne."
"Thanks!" He had a crude shower rigged outside his hut where you pulled a cord in a stall and water fell on you from a bucket. There was nothing like roughing it, though maybe last night had gotten a little too rough. Strange he couldn't remember anything about it, but the Duke didn't let little details like that bother him. He marched back into his hut stripping off his clothes, confident that whatever challenges lay ahead for him, this day or any other, he would face them down like a man and give a good account of himself as he always did, on-screen or off.
© 2002 Charles Hosford