A Tight Spot

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           Renewed by his newfound sense of purpose, Christ, it sure simplified matters to finally have some definite idea of what he wanted to do, find Sophia, you couldn't get much more basic or simple than that, the Duke confidently turned a corner into another alleyway with the idea of going to the hotel where most of the other cast and crew were staying hoping to find Sophia there(should he try to hook up with Henry and Rossano again? Nah, he didn't need their help in finding Sophia, especially Brazzi's, at least the sob hadn't burst into song when they had been at Abdullah's, that would have sent him around the bend for sure, if nothing else had)when he was brought up short by the large, unmistakable, ballooning figure of a camel. The beast was standing sideways, as if blocking the path on purpose, leaving no room to get by on either end. The Duke supposed that he could just turn around and retrace his steps, find another way to get where he wanted to go, but he was damned if he was going to back up for some camel.

           The Duke walked up until he was nose to nose with the critter, feeling more annoyed by the second at this inconvenience, his irritability stoked by the two whiskeys he'd gulped down at Abdullah's. "All right, buddy, what's your problem?"

           The camel remained mute. The Duke didn't think it was Omar or some other camel he'd run into before, but how could you tell, unless one of them was missing an ear or something. He put his hands on his hips, assuming his best I-don't-take-crap-from-anybody, especially-not-from-some-damn-camel, pose. "Are you going to get out of my way, or not?"

           The camel sneezed, coating the Duke. He backed off, wiping his face. This wasn't getting him anywhere. The Duke went to the rear of the camel, hoping to squeeze by there, but as soon as he tried the camel backed up, pinning him against a wall. Only with the greatest of difficulty did the Duke manage to free himself, the camel letting him retreat. The Duke checked himself for broken ribs, he felt like he'd been crushed flatter than a pancake, those camels weighed a ton, but could find no damage.

           "All right, to hell with you," the Duke said, giving up and turning to go, clutching his aching ribs. He looked back after a couple steps and saw that the camel had swung around, rear end pointed his way, apparently now content to give him free passage. Warily, the Duke headed back, but when he reached the camel it sidestepped in front of him, blocking his way once more. The Duke sighed, and stared at the camel's hairy ass. He knew, he just knew, he would bet his life on it, that there were two guys hiding inside a camel suit laughing their butts off at him at this very moment, two clowns hired by someone to give him a hard time for some unknown reason. The Duke could almost hear them giggling and imagined the camel's body shaking with mirth as the two men he was sure had to be inside struggled to contain their amusement and not blow the joke that was being played on him, a joke he didn't think was funny anymore and was more than tired of when to the Duke's amazement a head forced its way out of the camel's anus with a loud Pop!, a head that to his further amazement, nay, astonishment, belonged to one Harry Cohn, long time studio boss of Columbia pictures, who immediately began haranguing him in no uncertain terms.

           "You think you're something now, don't you, Wayne? You think you're a big star, a hero even, the stuff men are made of, just because you've gotten lucky and pulled the wool over most peoples' eyes. As far as I'm concerned, you're still the same two-bit, third-rate, no-talent excuse for an actor that you were when you first started out, not even fit for all those grade B westerns you made your name in. You're a disgrace to the acting profession, to movies, to Hollywood, a bum, a loser who couldn't emote his way out of a paper bag if his life depended on it, hiding behind the talents of others. You make me want to puke because that's all you are, puke, hiding behind a fake tough-guy image and convenient shows of patriotism, a one hundred percent, gold-plated phony who shouldn't even be allowed to see movies, much less make them. You're nothing, Duke, nothing. A fat, old, nothing!"

           The Duke knew what this was about. Cohn had hated him with a passion ever since he had stolen the affections of a starlet that the studio head had marked for himself---what had been her name?---Cohn almost ruining his career early on through the studio system by making sure that he didn't get any good parts. "SCREW YOU!" the Duke roared, balling his right hand into a fist, drawing it back and launching it full fury at the circle of Cohn's spiteful, sneering face, only to miss completely and plunge his hand into the camel's rear end up to his forearm. The beast shuddered convulsively, making the most unearthly sound the Duke had ever heard, then toppled over on its side, taking the Duke down with it, helpless.

           The Duke strained mightily to free himself, but it was no use, he was stuck fast. He repressed an urge to call for help, realizing how it would look if anyone caught him in this situation. Somehow, he would have to handle matters by himself.

           First, the Duke tried to pull his hand out slowly. Nothing. Then he tried to twist his hand, first right, then left. Again nothing. He couldn't even twist it, that's how tight he was stuck! In desperation, the Duke grabbed his imprisoned hand by the wrist with his free one, put both feet against the camel's posterior and pulled for all he was worth, but again met with total failure, and when he relaxed his hand was pulled even deeper! My God, how could this be happening to him, to him, John Wayne? What evil, malignant Commie menace could be behind this predicament?

           "Need a hand?"

           The Duke looked over his shoulder. It was Drinkwine, no longer in robe and Arab headdress, once more a regular American, in appearance, anyway. "Get me out of this!" the Duke demanded.

           Drinkwine squatted unhurriedly and took a closer look at things. "Hmmm. Didn't know you went in for this kind of sport."

           "What sport?"

           "Camel fisting. Looks like you've made a friend."

           The Duke was going to ask Drinkwine what the hell he was talking about, then saw the camel smiling back blissfully. "Jesus Christ, do something!"

           "I'm not sure what I can do," said Drinkwine. "How did you get in this mess?"

           "I didn't think it was a real camel, I thought it was two guys in a camel suit making fun of me. It's a long story."

           "Aren't they all. I can understand your confusion, though. Camels are very mysterious creatures. They've been around for thousands of years, but no one really knows where they came from. Did you know that camels have three pairs of eyelids and a double row of eyelashes?"

           "Will you shut up and get me out of this?"

           "You seem to mistake me for a publicity agent, a flak hired to follow you around and get you out of trouble. That is not my role."

           "Will you please just help me?"

           "Of course. Anything for a fellow American." Drinkwine grabbed the Duke by his imprisoned arm and together both men pulled as hard as they could, propping their feet against the camel for leverage, but even their combined efforts came to naught. The camel sighed pleasurably.

           "I can't believe this," the Duke said. "This just can't be happening."

           "It is a quandary," agreed Drinkwine. "Looks like we might have to amputate."


           "Just joking. Before we do that, I'd just kill this animal and butcher it, freeing you that way, but I don't think such extreme measures will be necessary. Damn."


           "Wish I had a camera. A picture of you in these circumstances would be priceless. For the files, of course."

           "You son of a bitch," the Duke said, trying to knock Drinkwine's block off with a wild left but missing, restricted as he was. Unperturbed, Drinkwine moved around to the front of the camel and bent over its head. He appeared to be doing something to one of its ears, either whispering or blowing into it, the Duke couldn't tell which, then, miracle of miracles, the Duke felt the camel's grip on him loosen and his hand easily slipped out. He just looked at it for awhile, amazed to see it again and have it back in his possession.

           "Blow in their ear and they'll follow you anywhere," Drinkwine said, standing. "Trick I learned from an old Bedouin, or at least he claimed to be. I'll skip the handshake, Mr. Wayne, nothing personal. Glad I could be of assistance."

           "Yeah. Thanks," the Duke said, also getting up.

           "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

           The Duke thought for a moment, taking his time, as if he had just this one chance to ask a question and get it right. "A lot of strange things have happened to me tonight, pal. Are you the one behind it all? What's the idea?"

           "I don't know," said Drinkwine. "However, do you see that light coming through that open doorway down there? I'm sure that inside you will find the answers to all your questions, even ones you haven't thought of yet."

           "The answers to all my questions, huh? You sure about that?"

           "Would I lie? I'd tag along, but I'm sure that the great John Wayne doesn't need anyone to hold his hand. Good night, Mr. Wayne."

           Drinkwine left, going the other way. The Duke knelt, giving his soiled hand a dirt bath until it was at least dry. God, had he been put through the wringer tonight. He wondered if he should have attempted to pound some more information out of Drinkwine, but that would have been ungrateful to say the least. Also, he didn't have the strength left to pound anybody, and Drinkwine looked like he could fight. The Duke looked at the light up ahead knowing that it had to be some kind of set-up, but what other choice did he have? Maybe it was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Suddenly, he was nudged from behind. It was the camel, and the Duke could swear it was smiling at him. Without needing further encouragement, the Duke hurried towards the light, sure that whatever was lying in wait for him couldn't be any stranger than anything he'd had to deal with so far.

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