Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Adventure
"Is anybody else here?" Anthony asked.
"Not yet. We're having a last supper sort of thing at five. I thought I'd introduce you to the animals before the show. Mr. Gluck--Lotto to his friends--is around someplace. Let me see if he's free."
"How big's the crowd going to be?" Anthony asked.
"How the hell should I know?" Shellabarger said.
Shellabarger left them by the third ring and went off looking for Gluck. They watched the man and woman and the horse, practicing over and over again the same leap, the man running up a ramp and jumping onto the horse and around the ring and then off, the woman leaping back on. Standing on the horse's back, the woman glanced at them as she passed, then jerked her head away as if she had made a mistake and no one had been there after all.
"You think the horse gets bored?" Anthony asked, tracking the woman with his eyes.
"Probably. Why aren't they training with a dinosaur?" Peter asked.
Anthony laughed. "Just wait," he said.
Shellabarger returned a few minutes later. "Lotto's on the squawk box. He says he'll join us later. Come on." Shellabarger stomped ahead, his big black-booted feet kicking up flakes of sawdust. He took them to the other end of the side tent, by the first cage on the right, and thumped the tarpaulin with his knuckles. Something inside harrumphed and squeaked.
"Don't be fooled by their pretty eyes," Shellabarger said. "They don't think like bears or big cats, or like any mammal." Shellabarger lifted the canvas cover. Inside the cage, a leggy creature as tall as a man lifted its smooth flexible neck and puffed out its throat below a toothless pointed jaw. A long naked tail twitched like a cat's, with a slow horizontal curl at the end. It seemed to be covered with brown and gray fur, but as it stalked forward, neck bobbing, and squeaked again, then whistled, Peter saw the fur was really a fine down of primitive feathers. Its eyes gleamed a beautiful golden color, mottled with rich chocolate specks, and the inside of its mouth and tongue was lavender.
Instead of wings it had long agile three-clawed hands. The claws gripped the bars and it angled its head to peer at Shellabarger.
"This is Dip," the trainer said. "He's not a bird or an avisaur--he's a real dinosaur. A plains struthio. Scientists call him a ratite mesotherm." He twisted his mouth in distaste. "I like the Indian names better. Does it look like asadashe tonoro, or like aNeostruthiomimus planensis? "
"Yeah," Shellabarger said. "His mate's in the trailer outside. Her name's Casso. They were brought out by the last expedition in 1928. Gluck bought them from Wonder World Ohio in 1937. They were in sad shape. Damned fools didn't know what to feed them."
"What do you feed them?" Peter asked. Shellabarger smiled craftily. "They like possums and bugs and lizards and chickens--and eggs, of course. Other circuses and zoos used to feed them strictly meat and eggs. But . . ." He put his hand between the bars of the cage. The struthio twisted his head, examined the hand as if it might be tasty, and pecked the fingers lightly. Peter was afraid he might have bitten the trainer, but Shellabarger laughed and pulled his hand back unbloodied. "We've known each other a long time. Casso's eggs, by the way, are infertile. Always have been. So far, I've never gotten any dino to make babies away from El Grande, more's the pity."
"What else do they eat?" Peter persisted.
The trainer bent over and whispered in Peter's ear: "They're omnivores. They love nuts and berries. Casso will do anything for a peanut."
Shellabarger winked to show this was their secret. They walked to the next cage, considerably larger than the first in the row, and pulled on a rope that lifted the canvas cover. "Good afternoon, Sammy," he murmured. Inside the cage, lying on its side, a massive, brown-spotted green body lifted one elephantine foreleg in the air, then rolled toward the small visitors, coming to rest on both forelegs, with hind legs splayed out behind. He tipped forward an ornate crest, swung his head to one side, and regarded them with a beady little black eye. His stomach rose and fell with a deep rumble. Sammy's aspect was already formidable, but as a final touch, he sported a bent, forward-jutting horn on his rhinoceros nose.
"Sammy's aCentrosaurus, " Shellabarger said. "A real survivor. A true older dinosaur, not very evolved. His breed's been around for about seventy million years. Sammy's small for his type, but fossil centrosaurs are even smaller. When I was a lad and visited southern El Grande, I saw centrosaurs in herds of hundreds, some of the big females thirty-five feet long. Sammy's been with us since the beginning, and he still acts like a youngster. Don't you, Sam?" Shellabarger grabbed hay from a bale, pulled a eucalyptus leaf from another box, and tied them up with a long green blade of grass. Sammy's beak opened and a rasping parrot tongue poked out. He rolled over a little more, stretched out his beak, and took the wad from Shellabarger. The centrosaur whistled softly through his nose.
All around Sammy's crest, reddish-brown knobs stuck out like studs on a dog's collar. Spots of dark green and fleshy pink covered the crest to just behind the prominent bony ridges surrounding his eyes.
"He looks placid now," Shellabarger said, "but Sammy gave me fits when I was younger. Liked to step on toes."
"Do the dinosaurs live a long time?" Anthony asked.
"We've got one old carnivore here, Dagger, a venator--he's in the trailer now, we don't take him out until the show--he's thirty-seven or thirty-eight, probably. He was a youngster when I plucked him off the plateau thirty years ago. Herbivores live about three times longer than the carnivores. So Sammy could live to be ninety or more."
"You seem to like them all," Peter said.
"Well," Shellabarger said, "I like some, and some like me." He drew up one corner of his lips and lowered his eyebrow in a half grimace.
The size of theCentrosaurus stunned Peter. He had never seen a dinosaur up close--only in pictures--and Sammy's bulk was both bigger, in some ways, and smaller, than he had imagined. Bigger, because if Sammy got loose, he could certainly smash up most of the circus, and smaller, because he could not tear apart a city. Peter wondered how big Dagger the venator was.
"There's Lotto now," Shellabarger said, nodding toward the juncture of the two tents. "You'll meet the rest of the beasts soon enough."
Lothar Gluck was a short plump man with a pale face and red cheeks and thin graying brown hair. He wore an expensive suit that refused to fit properly. His short stubby nose and florid lips reminded Peter of Charles Laughton, but Gluck's features seemed more dissipated, as if in his youth he might have been a handsome man.
"Lotto, this is Anthony Belzoni and his son, Peter," Shellabarger introduced. Gluck stuck out a thick pale hand, and Anthony shook it first as Gluck murmured certain standard phrases, "Pleasssed to meet you, delighted, yesss . . ." Then he came to Peter. Gluck's hand felt soft and slightly damp, like bread dough. He kept glancing over his shoulder, as if expecting someone else to arrive.
Though he was a U.S. citizen--and had been since 1913-- Lothar Gluck still spoke with a German accent. He hung on to many of his s's as he said them, as if unwilling to let his words loose.
"Sso, Mr. Shellabarger hass given you a small tour?" Gluck asked.
"We've seen a few of the animals," Anthony said. "It's a thrill to get this close, isn't it, Peter?"
Gluck focused on Peter, sized him up, and smiled sunnily. "Esspecially for a youngsster. I have built my career on thrilling young folks with the beassts."
Peter felt he was expected to say something. "They're great," he said. "I mean, they'rebig. "
"Both greatand big," Gluck said. "Sssome bigger than others." He cast a sad, glassy eye on Sammy. "Will Ssammy be performing tonight?"
"He wouldn't miss it," Shellabarger said.
"Sammy was the first dinosssaur I brought down from El Grande. I first went up the rivers to the tepuis when I was thirty-one yearss old, in the expedition of Colonel Fawcett himself. He ordered me to take Sammy and two other beassts down the Caron�back to civilization. Colonel Fawcett stayed behind, and was never seen again. After Professor Challenger, he was the greatest explorer of that region . . . But then, Challenger wass a dynamo, a genius, and something of a monssster himself."
"Cardozo was better," Shellabarger said. "He knew his stuff."
"If you get the impression I am waiting for somebody," Gluck said, glancing over his shoulder again, "I am. The producers, Mr. Cooper and Mr. Schoedsack, and their photographer, O'Brien, should be here soon. They are going to film the circus tonight."
"We always enjoy publicity," Shellabarger said dryly.
Lotto waved his plump hand. Three gold rings glittered on his thick fingers. "I think we may alsso have John Ford. He has always been a loyal patron. They will arrive in time for dinner, I hope. Already the movie truckss are here." Gluck turned to Peter again. "Shall we take a look at more beassts? It is wonderful, the way Vince has with them . . ."
Gluck accompanied them to one more cage. At the end of the row, near the entrance to the tent, a large, sluggish animal stood asleep on its four pillarlike legs. Heavily armored, the tail tipped with a large ball of bone, with spikes poking from its sides and shorter spikes in rows along its back; even its eyelids were covered with plates of bone. It looked like a cross between a horned toad and a Sherman tank and was longer than Sammy, almost thirty-one feet.
"This is Sheila," Shellabarger said to Anthony and Peter. "Sheila's a southern ankylosaur."
Peter bent over to examine the underpinnings of the cage. Big curved steel shock absorbers were mounted on each wheel axle and the cage rolled on truck tires.
"Vince, she seems to sleep all the time," Gluck said. "Whenever I look at her."
"I doubt Sheila knows the difference between being asleep and awake. She's not asleep, exactly. She's just got her eyes shut."
Anthony stepped forward and was surprised by a sudden swing of the tail against the cage. The ball of bone made a hideous whack against the bars and they all jumped back. The ankylosaur opened her small brown eyes, blinked with translucent membranes, opened her beaked mouth, stretched her neck, and made a shrill clucking noise, like a huge bass chicken.
"You startled her," Shellabarger said, grinning. "See, not exactly asleep." Anthony had almost dropped his camera. He looked at Peter with chagrin.
"You big lummox," Shellabarger said to the animal. Sheila clucked again, swung her head slowly back and forth, and rasped her big side spikes against the bars, making a fierce racket. "Just about the only fun she has is walking around the ring. She's a good platform. Just wait."
"Let us see the titan," Gluck said.
Shellabarger shook his head firmly. "Not when there's a show to do," he said. "She's as sensitive as a wild horse."
Gluck looked irritated, but shrugged; Shellabarger was master of the beasts.
"Titan?" Peter asked.
"Aepyornis titan," Gluck said proudly. "We call her Mrs. Birdqueen."
"Our young visitor hasn't seen the show yet, and you haven't done much publicity lately, Lotto," Shellabarger said. "Let it be a surprise for him."
Acrowd of bigwigs and celebrities stood around outside the tent, most dressed in gray suits and fedoras and smoking cigars and cigarettes. Two seemed out of place, standing a few yards apart from the rest: a thin young man, balding prematurely, and a grandfatherly-looking fellow with a pleasant but discerning expression. Their suits were almost slick with wear. The thin young man seemed to have inherited his clothes from an ancient male ancestor, they gleamed so at knees and elbows.
Gluck waded in among the celebrities, shaking hands, smiling, enthusing about this or that. Behind the men, Peter saw three women preening and displaying their cigarettes in long thin holders. Their high heels, sheer gowns, and fur coats seemed odd on the sawdust floor. One of them glanced at Peter, looked away, glanced back, and smiled. They were heart-stoppingly beautiful. Anthony, Peter, and Shellabarger followed Gluck. Shellabarger knew the men in good suits, and he nodded and shook hands with them, introducing them in turn to Peter and Anthony. "This is Merian Cooper," he said. "Coop didKing Kong, what, ten years ago?"
"Fourteen," Cooper said with a thick Southern accent. He was plump, middle-aged, of medium height. At first, he did not seem very impressive--but then Peter caught his direct gaze.
"You madeKong? " Peter asked, suddenly awed.
"You betcha. OBie, over there, created our big ape." Cooper pointed to the older man in the worn suit. "Some of our dinosaurs we put together from footage we shot forPlateau. The public, bless 'em, didn't much like the mix."
"I saw it last year," Peter said. "I thought it was great."
"A good story has some staying power . . ." Cooper said with a shrug and a grin. "But it damned near broke us. Ever sinceKong, Monte thinks I'm a jinx. He refuses to work with me."
Peter wondered who Monte was, but they moved on. Shellabarger steered them toward Gluck, who was standing next to the grandfatherly fellow. They and the balding young man were in conversation with a tall, slender fellow with a thick stand of wiry salt-and-pepper hair. "Monte, may I introduce our writer and sstill photographer, from theNational Geographic, Anthony Belzoni, and his son, Peter . . . My friends, thiss is the great director Ernest Schoedsack. Everyone calls him Monte."
"Only if I say so," Schoedsack said gloomily, and then gave a small smile. "Glad to meet you." He had a tall, square head. His ears stuck out on each side like handles and he looked half blind; he wore very thick glasses. "This is O'Brien, my camera and effects man. And this is . . ."
"Ray," the balding young man said, quickly catching that Schoedsack had forgotten his name. "Ray Harryhausen."
Peter and Anthony shook hands all around. Schoedsack took Gluck aside and Anthony struck up a conversation with O'Brien and Harryhausen.
Peter tuned in first to what Gluck and Schoedsack were murmuring.