As she ran after Mr. Wayne, Sophia's thoughts turned to her father, who had given her nothing but her name, Sciolone, and once a tiny blue riding car as a present, because there were times when a girl could use a male protector and this seemed to be one of them, not that there was anything her father could do in this situation that she couldn't, but still it would be nice to have someone around like that when you needed them. Riccardo was her father's first name and he was more interested in her now that she was a movie star---too bad he hadn't known that was going to happen!---and while Sophia didn't hate him, she had no time for such a useless emotion, she wasn't going to completely forgive him, either, for making her grow up under the stigma of illegitimacy, an embarrassment for anyone but especially for a young girl growing up in Catholic Italy in the 1930's. No wonder she had been so shy in her childhood, always trying not to be noticed. Now the situation was reversed, she wanted to be noticed, making Sophia wonder if her desire to be an actress was no accident, considering the circumstances of her life. Perhaps she was more driven than she wanted to admit, it wasn't all just her mother's ambition for her. She remembered sitting in the Teatro Sacchino watching the actors on the screen and knowing that she was born to be up there too. How could she have been so sure, and so right? Did everyone feel that way watching the movies when they were young and impressionable, or was it just a special few?
Sophia stopped. She was sure that this was the way Mr. Wayne had gone, down this alley, but he was nowhere to be seen. There was only the darkness and the silent fronts of the Arab houses. How could Mr. Wayne have disappeared so quickly? Was he playing some kind of game, or had she seen someone else despite the walk?
Sophia was startled by the sound of a match being lit. A flame flared up in a narrow alley to her right that she hadn't even noticed, dying down until there was only the glowing tip of a cigarette. She couldn't see who it was, only that it was a man under a wide-brimmed hat.
"Looking for someone, sister?"
The manner of speaking and intonation sounded like Mr. Wayne, but Sophia could tell it was someone doing an impersonation. "Who's there?"
The man stepped out of the alleyway, doffing his hat with a sweeping gesture and bowing at the waist. "Tex Calhoun, ma'am, at your service."
When the man straightened up, Sophia saw that it was Drinkwine, or Sheldon Rake. "What did you say your name was?"
"Tex Calhoun, ma'am. Or T.C., as my friends call me. Son of the Lone Star state and friend to all those in need, especially damsels in distress, little lady."
"Your name isn't Drinkwine, or Rake?"
"Not that I can recall. Who are they, friends of yours?"
Sophia studied the man. His smile was perfectly innocent and guileless. "Why are you following me?"
"Me following you? I think you've got things turned around. Much as I hate to contradict the fairer sex, I believe you were following me, for which I am deeply grateful. Would you care to go somewhere a little warmer where we could discuss things? You look a mite cold."
Strangely, Sophia did not feel cold. Tex put his hat back on and hooked his thumbs in his pants loopholes, adopting a casual slouch that Sophia had seen before. "Why are you pretending to be John Wayne?"
"Who else? Is there a finer man alive? Say, is that why you were following me, because you thought I was him? That's the greatest compliment I've ever received."
Sophia was at a loss. Either this man was the greatest actor in the world, or he truly believed at the moment that he was who he said he was. "I'm sorry to have bothered you," Sophia apologized, starting to walk away.
"No bother at all, Miss. Say, are you looking for the Duke?"
Sophia stopped. "Do you know where he is?"
"No, but I'd sure like to find him myself, too. I'd like to thank him."
"For showing me how to be a man, me and millions of other American males, in movies like Red River and the Sands of Iwo Jima, just to name a few, the latter my personal favorite, by the way. I'd like to meet Mr. Wayne, shake his hand, look him square in the eye and thank him for all of us. I don't think we could have become men without him, at least not the way we did. We owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. I know this is going to sound like an overstatement, but I firmly believe that one of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, that we won WWII was because of his movies during that period. If the Nazis or the Japs had had someone like the Duke on their side, we would have been doomed. I'd surely like to meet him and if you could find it in your heart to arrange an introduction, if you know the Duke, I'd be grateful beyond words." Tex looked at Sophia hopefully.
"I don't know where he is," said Sophia. "Otherwise, I would help you."
"The Duke isn't in some kind of trouble, is he? You sound worried."
"I'm not sure. He might be."
"Damn Commies, they'd love to bring a good man like that down and discredit him, not to mention everything he stands for. I'll help you find him. Do you have any idea where he might be?"
"I know a place where we can start looking. I was just on my way there. We can talk and sort things out. Sound like a plan?"
Sophia acquiesced with a nod. It didn't sound like much of a plan, but she didn't have anything better and also had the feeling that Tex or Drinkwine or whatever his name was knew a lot more than he was telling. She followed him down an alley past dark, secretive houses until they stopped at one. Tex knocked on the door and a peephole slid open.
"Who's there?" a voice demanded in English. Sophia could see the top of someone's head.
"Oh come on, Fez, you know. Tex."
"Do I look alone?"
The peephole closed. There was the sound of a bolt being slid back and the door grudgingly opened. Tex went in first, Sophia following cautiously.
They entered a warm, well-lit room with several small round tables and overstuffed armchairs, most occupied by robed Arabs drinking out of mugs and smoking hookahs, who ignored them after cursory glances. The floor was covered by an intricately patterned rug, and several vibrantly colorful paintings decorated the walls. Tex guided Sophia to an empty table and they sat down.
"This is irregular," complained a short, dumpy man in an ill-fitting grey suit who had followed them over. "Most irregular."
"What is?" asked Tex, unperturbed.
"Having a female guest. I am not sure it is permitted. Do you think you have special privileges?"
"Relax, Fez. Do you see anyone objecting?"
"What would you like?"
"Two camel's milks. That's all you serve, isn't it?"
Fez left. "You know, Miss," Tex said, taking off his hat and laying it on the table, "I may be out of line, but you're the most attractive filly I've ever seen in these parts. What's your name?"
"Are you here making a movie with the Duke?"
"Yes. It's called Legend of the Lost."
"What part do you play? What's your character's name?"
"Dita. I play a street urchin."
"A street urchin? An Arab street urchin? This must be some movie."
"In the movie, my father is a European who disappears in the Sahara looking for a lost city. But yes, it is that kind of movie."
Tex nodded, and took out a pack of cigarettes. "Smoke?"
"No, thank you."
Tex lit one and took a long, grateful drag. "Men must fall in love with you all the time, Sophia. I know I already have. What do you say to that?"
"What my mother would say. Take a cold bath."
"Unfortunately, out here they are few and far between. How long have you been beautiful, all your life?"
"No. When I was a child, I was quite ugly, too skinny. Then when I turned fourteen, I started filling out."
"That's when the whistles started, eh?"
"How did you know?"
"I can imagine."
All the time Tex, or Drinkwine, whatever his name was, had been talking to her, he had been imitating John Wayne's voice and movie mannerisms, the world weary squint, occasional sly smile. Sophia wasn't sure if she should find such homage strange or comical, then something occurred to her. "It was you who left me that note, wasn't it?"
Tex looked confused. "What note?"
"The note outside my bedroom door that said Mr. Wayne was in danger and to meet someone at Abdullah's. It was you, wasn't it?"
"I don't think so."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. Maybe it was one of those fellows you mentioned earlier, Rake, or Drinkwine. It wasn't me."
"Do you know where I could find either one of those gentlemen?"
"I'm afraid not, little lady. Wish I could help you. Makes you wonder what John Wayne would do in a situation like this, doesn't it? I bet he'd know what to do. Always does, that's why he's admired the whole world wide, which raises another question: who does John Wayne call on when he needs help? Hell, he just relies on himself, doesn't he? He'd die first before he asked for a hand, or at least take one helluva beating. Huh, answered my own question."
There was a knock on the door. Fez opened the peephole, standing on his tiptoes to see who was there, then opened it. Three Arab men came in, two in robes, one in a dark suit, and they sat down at a table, crowding around it uncomfortably. Sophia noticed that they were all staring at her.
"Looks like someone needs to be taught a lesson in manners," said Tex, staring back hard.
"Please, don't start anything," said Sophia. "We can just leave."
"Why? If anyone should leave, it's them. Who do they think they are, staring at you like you're a harem girl?"
The three men got up and came over. "Excuse me," the one in the suit said, addressing Sophia. "Are you Miss Sophia Loren?"
"Yes, I am."
"His highness, King Idris al-Senussi the First, wishes an audience with you."
"Oh come on," said Tex. "Who do you think you guys are kidding? The King, here? He doesn't leave his palace in Benghazi, unless he wants to go to Paris for a little you know what. You boys will have to do a lot better than that. Clear out of here, if you know what's good for you."
The man in the suit glanced at Tex, then ignored him. "Please, Miss Loren. The King is waiting for you in a tent on the outskirts of town. He desperately desires to see you on a matter of the utmost importance that only you can help him with."
"I bet," said Tex.
"Please, Miss Loren. I am not exaggerating when I say that the fate of our new country may depend on you."
Sophia didn't know what to say. "This seems very strange. Can I wait until morning, and bring someone with me?"
"I'm afraid not. The King must see you now, and alone. The matter he wishes to undertake with you is very delicate and must remain secret at all costs. People have already died over it."
Sophia shook her head. How did she even know that these three were representatives of the King? "I'm sorry, I can't help you."
Tex rose menacingly from his chair, stretching himself to his full height. "The lady's not interested, boys. I suggest you get lost."
One of the robed Arabs pulled out a gun. Tex sat back down. "Good point," Tex said. "Well, sister, if I was John Wayne I'd probably do something heroic right now and save you from a fate worse than death, but I'm not so I can't. You'll have to take your chances with these gentlemen. Bon fortuno, as I believe you Italians say."
"Miss Loren?" the man in the suit said, indicating the door.
Sophia got up. She looked around the room, but no one seemed concerned with what was happening. Men! Sometimes they were so useless, like her father, though perhaps that was not a fair comparison. She briefly considered bestowing several choice Sicilian curses but decided she would be wasting her breath.
"Don't worry about our drinks, I've got 'em," said Tex as she was lead to the door. "Keep your chin up!"
Sophia realized that this was the second time she was being abducted tonight, as if she was stuck in the typical secondary female role of someone who always needed to be protected or rescued. She didn't like the part, but decided that she would have to go along with it until something better came her way, there being no other realistic choice, and walked into the cold night determined not to be pushed around any more than she absolutely had to.