Some Enchanted Evening
"Where can we drop you?" Chuck asked Sophia as they returned to Ghadames. "Where we picked you up?"
"No, the hotel will be fine." Sophia had thought about going back to Abdullah's, but didn't think Mr. Wayne would be there. She didn't think he would be at the hotel, either, but it was the only place she could think of going at the moment.
They reached the hotel, the only one in Ghadames, after poking through a maze of dark, empty, narrow streets, or passageways. "Once again I apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused you," apologized Chuck as Sophia got out of the car. "I hope there are no hard feelings."
Sophia smiled. She found Americans so strange at times, like overgrown children. "It's all right. I enjoyed meeting Mr. Hughes."
"He's very rich. It's amazing what a difference that makes, or maybe not."
"I didn't find him that odd."
"In that case, Mr. Hughes must be having a good day. You will keep his presence here a secret, won't you? I was supposed to blindfold you on the way back, but didn't think it was necessary."
"I won't tell anyone."
"Excellent. Good night, Miss Loren, and good luck."
Good luck? What did that mean, good luck in finding Mr. Wayne? Sophia wanted to ask Chuck, but the car had already driven off. All according to plan, Sophia couldn't help thinking for some reason, remembering Mr. Hughes's words. What was the plan now? Somehow she had to locate the Duke, even though there was nothing specific she could warn him about. Maybe it was time to tell someone else what was going on, like the director, Henry Hathaway, a good friend of Mr. Wayne's. Of course! She should have done that in the beginning, except she hadn't known how serious things were then.
No longer confused, Sophia headed towards their director's residence on this location, a one room hut with a dirt floor. She thought she knew where it was, but quickly got lost in the unlit, winding pathways. All the buildings looked the same to her in the darkness. Instead of calling out the director's name or knocking on doors, Sophia decided she would have to return to the hotel and find someone there who could help or lead her to Mr. Hathaway, then she heard a familiar voice singing a song she almost knew by heart herself now.
"Some enchanted evening
It was Rossano, Rossano Brazzi, her co-star on this movie along with John Wayne, singing his favorite song from a film he had just made called 'South Pacific'. He was crooning it to a group of camels resting on their haunches and studying Rossano curiously. Sophia assumed Rossano was just in his usual high spirits, perhaps aided by a little wine.
"Rossano!" Sophia called out. "Are these your newest fans?"
"Sophia!" Rossano shouted back, waving gleefully. "What are you doing out so late? Come and meet my new friends."
"I'm looking for Mr. Hathaway," said Sophia, coming over. She stared at the camels, who stared back.
"Not happy with your role? Frankly, I don't think we're in that good a movie. I think it is going to be what the Americans call a stinker."
"No, it's not that. It's something else." Sophia explained how her evening had gone so far, telling Rossano everything, even about Howard Hughes though she had promised not to. After all, hadn't he ordered her abduction? She owed him nothing.
Rossano nodded somberly when her story was through. "You're right, we should tell Henry. He'll know what to do. Maybe something's going on, maybe not."
"You didn't leave that note for me, did you, Rossano?"
"Of course not. I would never play such a stupid joke, though it would have been amusing to see you disguised as an old man with a long white beard."
"I thought I played the part quite well, actually."
"I'm sure you did."
"Do you know where our director is staying? I got lost."
"Just down that street, it's not far."
They took their leave of the camels. "Ciao," Rossano said, waving goodbye as well to the beasts, who were collectively unimpressed.
"Do you think they liked your singing?" Sophia asked playfully.
"Who knows," Rossano answered with a shrug. "They're such strange, fantastic looking creatures. It wouldn't surprise me if one of them started talking."
"In Italian or some other language?" asked Sophia, laughing. She felt much better being in Rossano's company and was sure that together they could get some answers.
Rossano led them down a street to a nondescript one room shack and knocked on the door. "Henry, are you in?"
No answer. Rossano tried the door, found it unlocked, and they went inside. On a small table in a corner, near an empty, unmade single bed, a lamp was burning and casting shadows. On a larger table against a wall were cans of film, loose scripts, a couple books and magazines. A projector, plugged into a portable generator, was set up on a stand in the middle of the room, with a metal folding chair beside it.
"Wonder where he is," said Rossano. "Looks like he left in a hurry. Either that, or he just stepped out for a moment. What's this?" Rossano picked up something from the floor. It was a poster advertising someone called the Desert Elvis playing tonight at Abdullah's, but splashed across the poster in big red letters were the words "Death to America! Death to John Wayne!"
"Who is this Desert Elvis?" Rossano asked, giving the poster to Sophia.
"I don't know. But if he's appearing tonight at the same club where I saw Mr. Wayne earlier with those other men, maybe that means something."
"I don't know."
"He's an American recording star, isn't he?"
"Who, the Desert Elvis?"
"No, the real one," said Rossano. "The one whose picture is on this poster, Elvis Presley. He's a rock and roll singer, it's the newest craze. Have you heard him?"
Sophia studied the photo of the singer on the poster. "He's a good looking boy, maybe that's why he's so popular. Do you think he's the Desert Elvis?"
"I doubt it. It's probably just somebody who's borrowing his name and act to make a little money."
"What do you think this message means, death to America, death to John Wayne?"
Rossano threw up his hands. "Who knows? All the locals seem to love having us here, unless they've only been pretending. Maybe it's just someone trying to cause mischief."
Sophia discarded the poster. "We've got to find Henry. Where do you think he is?"
"If he's worried about that poster, he might have gone to where the Duke's staying to tell him about it. Unless he went to the hotel to find the Duke, because I believe some of the cast and crew are conducting a poker game there."
"I'll go back to the hotel," said Sophia. "You go to where the Duke's staying. I'll wait at the hotel for you."
"A plan!" Rossano said in mock delight. "That's all we needed, some kind of plan. I'll see you at the hotel, hopefully with both the Duke and Henry in tow."
They left the shack. "Maybe I should ask the camels what's going on," said Rossano. "I bet they know, but they're not talking."
Sophia laughed. She and Rossano parted, both waving goodbye, and she started back to the hotel. As she walked, she began to have the oddest feeling that the houses she passed were watching her, not the people in them if any were awake, but the houses themselves, as if they were somehow alive. Huddled close together, their simple, primitive shapes seemed timeless. Didn't everything have some kind of soul or spirit? Sophia tried to ignore this strange feeling, than suddenly stopped as if she was frozen. She didn't know why, but she couldn't move, as if something was holding her, except nothing was. Move, she told herself, but her legs and feet did not respond, as if she no longer knew where she wanted to go, or why. She waited for her immobility to pass, but it stubbornly refused to leave. This was ridiculous, she told herself, but her self-castigation had no effect.
"Are you all right?" a man asked. He was obscured in the shadows of a doorway.
"Of course I am," Sophia replied haughtily, feeling insulted because she had been caught in a moment of vulnerability. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"You were in Abdullah's earlier tonight, weren't you? Disguised as an old man?"
Sophia wondered how she should respond. Who would know this besides her and Muammar? Abdullah, after she'd revealed herself, Rossano, because she'd just told him. Who else, Hughes? "Who wants to know?" she asked defiantly.
"I just wondered," the man said, stepping out of the doorway. "You didn't happen to eat or drink anything while you were there, did you?"
"Good. I'm afraid things have gotten out of hand."
The man sighed, took off a pair of glasses and began cleaning them with a handkerchief. Sophia suddenly realized that this was one of the men who had joined Mr. Wayne at Abdullah's, the other American. What had he said his name was?
"It's all Drinkwine's fault," the man said, returning his glasses to his face, blinking a couple times. "He's a good man, but sometimes gets a little out of control. He has a renegade mentality and operates under his own agenda, in addition to his regular orders. Frankly, I don't know what he's up to most of the time, and I suspect neither does he."
"Aren't you Drinkwine?" Sophia asked.
The man looked puzzled. "No. Let me introduce myself: I'm Sheldon Rake." Rake\Drinkwine stuck out a hand and Sophia shook it. "I'm an associate of Mr. Drinkwine's. He prefers to think subordinate, but I prefer to think associate. We're here at this site, chosen for its remoteness, to conduct an experiment. At least that's why I'm here, and I'm afraid that is what has gotten out of hand."
"The experiment. I shouldn't tell you its nature, but you look trustworthy, and besides, I may need your help." Rake\Drinkwine looked around as if making sure no one could overhear them, then continued. "Drinkwine and I were sent here to test a powerful new drug on the local inhabitants, without their knowledge. The plan was to drop some of the drug into their water supply and see what happened. Simple, but it didn't work. My fault, I underestimated the amount of drug needed to do the job. The dilution factor. Anyway, that's when Drinkwine improvised. I've got an idea, he says, which always means trouble. He wouldn't tell me what it was, the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, then the next thing I know a couple of my vials are missing. From what I've been able to learn since, I'm afraid that, well, the Duke has been well and truly dosed."
"I think that bastard Drinkwine has somehow slipped Mr. Wayne some of the experimental drug. Probably in something he was drinking. He could be in big trouble."
"You mean danger?"
"That too. There was really no need, but Hummer couldn't resist. What affect would this drug have on the great John Wayne, archetypal all-American he-man hero? I admit I was curious myself, but what Hummer did is wrong. There could be serious consequences."
"What consequences?" Sophia asked. "What does this drug do?"
"It gives one visions," Rake\Drinkwine answered, looking out into space. "Even if one is prepared for them, they can be alarming. If you are open to the experience, they can be magical, transforming. You feel as if you are looking beyond the surface of things into the true nature of reality and that you can do anything with this knowledge. I know because I've tested this drug on myself, barely surviving with my personality intact. It's incredibly powerful, but its effect is unpredictable, which is why we are field testing it, to learn more...am I talking too much? I feel as if I am rambling."
"Not at all," said Sophia, overwhelmed by all she was hearing and not sure how much of it to believe. "Is there any antidote to this drug?"
"No. It wears off after a time, but then its effect sometimes comes back without warning. It's not a poison, actually, not in the ordinary sense, but its effect can be deadly."
"You mean Mr. Wayne might die from taking this drug?" asked Sophia, horrified.
"Indirectly. It seems to depend on the individual. We've had people kill themselves because they didn't know what was happening to them. Some were our own people, if you can imagine, like Frank Olson. A couple weeks after his boss put the drug in his cocktail, just as a prank, ol' Frank jumped out a ten story window. Only way he could stop his hallucinations. Must have thought he was going nuts."
"That's terrible," Sophia said, outraged. "That's a terrible thing to do to someone."
"Monstrous," agreed Rake\Drinkwine. "But all's fair in love and war, as they say. The ends justify the means, a philosophy first proposed by one of your countrymen, I believe. At any rate, have you seen Mr. Wayne lately? I'm curious to know how he's faring."
"I don't know. I'm looking for him myself."
"Well, if you see him, don't be surprised if he's acting a little strange. By the way, I've noticed that you haven't moved a muscle since we started our conversation. Is there any reason for your immobility?"
"Maybe it's because if the universe exists for no reason, then how could you not be paralyzed? How could you not be frozen if we're here for no reason at all, even if you're not aware of this problem?"
Sophia said nothing. Rake\Drinkwine stood beside her so they faced the same way. "I feel it, don't you?"
"The vibration of an uncounted number of invisible strings, being plucked by unseen fingers and making us dance to a silent music as the earth spins beneath us faster than we can imagine, expanding ever outward into the void along with the rest of the universe. It's a wonder that we're not blown off into space standing in the midst of all this heavenly turbulence, hurtling to God knows what conclusion."
Sophia felt dizzy and closed her eyes. She imagined that she was standing on the bow of a wooden ship sailing through the ocean of space, parting the stars. When she opened her eyes again, Rake\Drinkwine was no longer beside her.
Somewhere a camel bawled. Sophia felt her body relax, as if somehow that sound had broken whatever spell was holding her. She quickly resumed her course, hoping that she would find Mr. Hathaway at the hotel, maybe even Mr. Wayne too by now, but she had a feeling that things were not going to be that easy.