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Authors: Greg Bear

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Adventure

Dinosaur Summer (5 page)

BOOK: Dinosaur Summer
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"Last time we went in there, to makePlateau, we lost a plane and three men. Damned near lost OBie when a boat went the wrong way down a rapids. That Caron�s a bitch of a river, Lotto."

"Don't I know it," Gluck said.

Peter felt his neck hairs tingle.

O'Brien and Harryhausen examined Anthony's Leica. O'Brien described a new portable 35-millimeter movie camera and the newest Technicolor film stock. "Whole thing weighs less than thirty pounds."

"Sounds like a good dance partner," Anthony said pleasantly. "Hope I'll be able to squeeze a few snaps in between."

"This isn't my strong suit, y'know," O'Brien confided, shaking his head. "Oh, I'm good; I've been filming live action since beforeKong, but Ray and I have been hoping we could get enough money together to try again."

"Try what again?" Peter asked. "A fantasy film," O'Brien said. He pulled a wry face. "All this focus on real animals. Not that I don't like dinosaurs. They're swell. I put some of my own together forCreation. "

Harryhausen chuckled. In a soft, deep voice, he said, "We've been put in the shade by real life."

"Yeah," O'Brien said. "But it was sound killed that old beast, not live dinosaurs. Silent movies aren't worth the gun-cotton they're printed on."

"Nitrocellulose," Harryhausen explained to Peter.

"Oh," Peter said.

Harryhausen smiled. At first glance, his face and expression seemed affable, even simple--sympathetically angled eyebrows, quick smile, a low-key manner. But when Harryhausen looked directly at him, Peter sensed keen intelligence, real determination--and almost infinite patience.

"Ray would like to animate things we've never seen before, creatures from Venus and Mars, Greek gods and fire-breathing dragons. But dinosaurs spoiled the public for any of our imaginary monsters." O'Brien raised his hands in resignation.

"Fickle," Anthony commiserated.

"At least we've got work," Harryhausen said softly.

"Yeah, moviemaking is about the public's dreams, not our own," O'Brien said with a sigh.

***

A long table and folding chairs had been set up in the center ring of the big top. The dinner was brief, not very lavish, but at the end, everybody toasted everybody else. Peter toasted with a glass of milk. Looking around the table, he realized with a creeping numbness that his father and he were sitting with half a dozen circus performers, a ringmaster, a dinosaur trainer, and Lotto Gluck himself. John Ford sat at one end flanked by Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack; to the right of Cooper were Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen, three beautiful actresses--one blonde, one brunette, and one redhead--and . . . he had come back around the table to Anthony and himself. Anthony was deep in conversation with the redhead, the one who had smiled at Peter. She wasn't much older than Peter, either.

Ford, a pleasant but ordinary-looking man with thinning hair and round horn-rim glasses, stood to deliver his personal toast and wishes for the expedition.

"Damn, I wish I was going with you," he said, aiming his glass around the table. His other hand clutched and worried a napkin.

Peter looked at Anthony. "Going where?" he whispered.

Anthony held his fingers to his lips.

"When I was just breaking into movies, I read about the explorers following after Challenger. I remember the newsreels of Roy Chapman Andrews. Andrews divided his time between El Grande and the Flaming Hills in Mongolia. Monte, you ran into Roy once, didn't you?" "That grandstanding S.O.B.," Schoedsack said. Behind his goggling glasses, he seemed perpetually irritated.

"He coulda made a hell of a lot of omelets," Ford said. "Some of them would have been pretty tough, of course."

Harryhausen leaned across the table and said to Peter, "Andrews found fossil dinosaur eggs in Mongolia and real eggs on El Grande."

"Oh," Peter said, realizing he had a lot to catch up on.

"I remember the headlines when Colonel Fawcett went missing. Lotto, you knew Fawcett personally."

"Another prima donna," Gluck said under his breath.

"I heard that," Ford said. "Well, it takes one to know one."

"Too right," Gluck said. He mopped his face with a handkerchief and took another swig of wine. Then he looked down at the table sadly.

"And who could forget Jimmie Angel cracking up his airplane on El Grande and having to walk thirty miles to the bridge at Pico Poco? That wasafter it was supposed to be closed . . . I wanted to make a movie of that, even had Gary Cooper set for the part, but the studios were kinda cold on the idea, and other things came along." His eyes sparkled as he turned toward O'Brien. "OBie, you've been itching for years now to make another monkey movie."

Everybody around the table but Schoedsack laughed. OBie shook his head wryly.

"Well, I tell you what. Get these dinos into retirement"--he paused, then glanced around the table, smiling--"down in Tampa. Bring me back some great scenes, well blocked and with lots of drama, like you did forKong but in color, and we'll make that monkey movie. Only this time, the ape'll be smaller so it'll cost less. I'll even rope in Monte."

"Never again," Schoedsack vowed darkly.

Shellabarger got up and said he must excuse himself. The circus performers--including the ringmaster and the man and woman who had practiced with the horse--stood up with him. Everybody had to get dressed and ready for the final show, which would begin in an hour.

As the table was cleared, the guests milled about. The ringmaster's assistant ushered everybody out. The tent was to be closed to bring in the performing cages. "Wouldn't want any of the animals to find you here!" the assistant said with a wolfish smile.

"My beassts," Gluck said sadly, standing beside the ring, one hand on a guy wire. "All right, we go to the third tent. Come, we have photographers and newspaper people to talk to."

The crowd of reporters in the third tent was not what Gluck had hoped for. There were only five, and two of those were from the society pages hoping to snag interviews with the actresses and Ford. Nobody seemed much interested in Gluck himself. He walked from group to group with a hang-dog expression.

Peter had a chance to talk with Harryhausen some more. The actresses aside, Harryhausen was the closest in age to Peter-- twenty-seven. "How long have you been a moviemaker?" Peter asked.

"Just a few years," Harryhausen said. "Haven't had the chance to do much yet. How about you?"

Peter shook his head. "I'm a writer, I suppose."

"Is that what you want to be?" Harryhausen asked, catching the uncertainty in his voice.

"I suppose," Peter repeated. In a quiet rush, Peter said, "What's all this secrecy? Mr. Ford seems to know something, and my dad--he's holding something back, too. What are we going to do?"

Harryhausen made a face and held up his hands. "Damned if I know. We're going to follow the animals south to Tampa and make a movie about the trip, is what I've been told. I don't dare hope for anything more."

***

The big top opened forty minutes later and they entered to take their seats in the front rows beside the center ring. The public was allowed in, and after half an hour, the big top bleachers were only three-quarters filled. Anthony leaned over to Peter and whispered, "What'swrong with Americans these days? Doesn'tanything get them excited?"

Clearly, his father was worried. If the last performance of the last dinosaur circus was not a sellout, standing room only, then who could tell what Mr. Grosvenor might think back in Washington, D.C.? Maybe he'd cancel the whole article, photos and all.

Large cages with thick black bars had been erected at each side of the center ring and two smaller cages had been placed in each of the outside rings. Steel-bar tunnels covered with tarps led from the side tent into the cages. One of the tunnels stood over fifteen feet high.

Outside, a wind started to blow and the canvas of the big top flapped and snapped, letting in little gusts. Peter could smell fresh air and rain. The crowd seemed expectant and cheerful. Big spotlights switched on and the ringmaster came into the center ring, followed by his assistant.

The ringmaster's name was Karl Flagg. He stood ramrod straight in his red coat and high black hat and black jodhpurs, a thick black belt cinching in his stomach, broad shoulders tapering without interruption past his nonexistent waist to his knees. He looked imposing in the ring, but at the dinner Peter had noticed that Flagg was only a little taller than he.

"Ladies and Gentlemen!"The ringmaster's voice boomed through the tent without help from a loudspeaker. The audience quieted. "You are here to witness an historic performance, a performance of which we are all immensely proud. Tonight, we will show you some of the most wonderful and terrifying animals on Earth, and with sadness in our hearts . . . we will bid them farewell.

"Lothar Gluck's Dinosaur Circus first performed on this very date two decades ago, in 1927 . . . and quickly grew to be the biggest dinosaur circus in North America, Europe, and Asia. We have performed for presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens . . . celebrities and tyrants! "Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, for your delight, and yours alone, and for theVery. Final. Performance! Lothar Gluck presents . . .

"Animals from the edge of time!

"Beasts transported at great peril from the fabled and horrifying Lost World of El Grande, the last of their kind!

"Performing . . .

"InCIRCUS LOTHAR . . .

"Lothar Gluck's world-renowned DINOSAUR CIRCUS!"

The tarps were rolled back from the caged runways and spots swung to highlight an animal running toward the two cages in the center ring. Peter saw that it was Dip, the maleStruthiomimus that had pecked at Shellabarger's hand. Simultaneously, a clown in a ridiculous green dragon suit with broad floppy red wings jumped and stumbled into the ring and slapped up against the cage door. The door swung open as the clown stared at Dip in stupefaction. The ostrich-like dinosaur pushed at the door with his three-clawed hands, pulled his head back on his long neck, and stepped through.

Another clown dressed as a mighty hunter--oversize pith helmet, a gun six feet long, floppy jodhpurs--ran from the opposite side of the ring. He aimed the gun not at Dip, who scratched his jaw idly with one claw, but at the dragon clown. The dragon shrieked, ran away, and was pursued by the hunter. As the hunter ran past Dip, theStruthiomimus neatly lanced out with his jaws and plucked the helmet from the clown's head. A big wad of brilliant red hair spilled out, and the hunter heaped unintelligible abuse on the animal. The struthio deftly flipped the hat out of the ring.

The hunter lifted his rifle, peered down the sights, and took a long time to aim, wriggling his butt and jiggling the barrel up and down. The struthio stepped forward and just as deftly pulled the gun from the hunter's grasp, broke it in half, and tossed it aside. The hunter leaped into the air, arms and legs akimbo, and fled. Dip followed with casual swiftness, head and neck bobbing, eyeing the audience in the bleachers.

As the hunter and struthio circled, a third clown rolled a popcorn cart into the ring. The hunter stopped, bought a bag of popcorn, and began to eat as the struthio caught up. Dip squawked harshly and the hunter turned and trembled, shaking popcorn all over. The struthio pecked eagerly at the fallen kernels. The hunter mouthed a white-rimmed O of surprise and offered the long-necked animal the bag, leering knowingly at the audience. The struthio stuck his head in the bag-- and the clown shoved the bag higher with a flourish. The bag stuck. Dip shook his head from side to side (but did not pull the bag away with his claws) and made more squawking sounds. The audience roared with laughter.

The hunter was taking aim with the recovered, reassembled gun when the dragon clown sneaked up from behind and gave him a sound kick in the pants. The gun went off with a loud bang, shooting powdery white smoke and more popcorn. The struthio jumped and shook the bag loose, then chased all three clowns offstage. The lights dimmed.

The audience laughed and applauded, but Peter wriggled on the bench restlessly. He was waiting for the real show to begin. He didn't think dinosaurs were anything to laugh at.

Anthony stood just outside the center ring, camera in hand, waiting to snap a good picture of the action.

Flagg the ringmaster returned to the center ring and the lights narrowed to intense white circles around him and the open door of the cage. Dip chased the hunter clown around the perimeter outside the ring. As the hunter passed, Peter saw with some surprise that it was Shellabarger.

"You!" Flagg shouted. "You left this door open! Somebody could get hurt! We're going to have really big animals in this cage!"

Ashamed, the hunter sidled up to the cage door, big shoes slapping, but before he could close it, the struthio pushed it shut. At the clang of steel meeting steel, the hunter jumped and shivered all over, nerves clearly shot, and the struthio nudged him none too gently out of the ring.

"Well, we've finally had enough ofthat, " the ringmaster said, and Peter agreed.

"The drama of life on Earth," the ringmaster said, "is full of surprises. Beginning thousands of years ago, we found the mysterious bones of extinct animals, turned to rock in the soil--and we tried to piece together the history of what Earth was like, millions of years before humans walked the planet. We were even more surprised to discover living examples and close relatives of these extinct animals in South America. But the greatest surprise of all was that we couldcommunicate with these animals, train them, make them our companions--and in some cases, our implacable foes. What could be more surprising than the mystery of ancient life meeting modern man . . . Ladies and gentlemen, Lothar Gluck presents . . . THE CAVALCADE OF LIFE IN TIME!"

The runways to the now-empty cages pulled back.

Ray Harryhausen leaned over and whispered to Peter, "Not the way I'd run this railroad."

"What would you do?" Peter asked.

"Bring out the big animals right away. Show the danger," Harryhausen said. "Tell a story that makes some sort of sense. Then have an elephant fight a venator." He grinned mischievously.

BOOK: Dinosaur Summer
3.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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