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Authors: Greg Bear

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

Dinosaur Summer (7 page)

BOOK: Dinosaur Summer
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The cage swayed a few inches toward Shellabarger, and the audience rose as one, ready to escape. Indeed, several men had already taken to their heels and were rushing for the exits.

Shellabarger's arm narrowly escaped a swipe from Dagger's left claw. The breeze from the beast's arm wafted the campaign hat from the trainer's head and sent it falling toward the sawdust. Shellabarger stepped away from the cage slowly and deliberately, bent to pick up the hat, and turned to face the venator, this time from a safer distance. The dinosaur fell back and the cage swung upright with squeals of scraping metal.

The ringmaster's patter had ceased. Clearly, this hadn't happened in some time, if ever. Flagg examined the audience and the animal, and decided to say nothing--neither to assure the audience that they were safe, for perhaps they weren't, nor to describe what was happening, for no words were necessary. The band's music sounded tinny and hollow, like a radio heard through a bad dream. Shellabarger made low throaty noises at the venator, staring directly into his brilliant emerald eyes. The venator sidled back. Peter saw blood on the side of the animal's head, trickling down to his shoulders. A glassy ribbon of slaver oozed between his teeth and swung like a pendulum from his jaw.

The acts in the side rings had stopped. The entire tent was filled with people watching this drama of will versus wild, and Peter, to his dismay, suddenly felt a sharp sympathy for the venator.Never allowed to run free, never allowed to hunt live animals, brought night after night into this cramped prison, not knowing his freedom is just weeks away . . .

Peter almost wished Dagger could knock the cage down and run wild, grab a few complacent members of the audience, shake them, snap their necks--

He looked at Harryhausen. The cameraman was on his feet, body arched forward, eyes gleaming. He glanced down at Peter. "Do you feel it?" he asked.

Peter nodded.

Harryhausen's hands formed fists. "He musthate that man," he said.

Peter looked at the center ring. Five or six roustabouts stood ready to reinforce the cage with wooden beams. The venator seemed suddenly to lose interest in the whole affair. He clawed the ground, lifted his head to sniff the air, then raised his left arm and delicately scratched the bleeding spot on his head, as if judging the damage. Shellabarger took a deep draft of air and walked along the side of the cage to the runway. Dagger turned slowly, then bent over, bringing his tail level with his head and neck, and ambled down the runway and out of the tent.

The ringmaster nodded his relief to Lotto Gluck, who stood in the shadows on the edge of the center ring. Harryhausen sat down and folded his arms.

"Fantastic," he said.

For Peter, the rest of the acts passed quickly. Even the twelve-foot-highAepyornis titan, dragging a wagon with an elephant on it, seemed uninteresting.

The venator had looked athim. Peter had sensed the wildness and pent-up fury. He felt as if he had stared into the throat of a tornado and just barely escaped.

***

As the tent lights came up and the people filed out, Anthony joined Peter and Harryhausen. "Gluck's asked Peter and me to sleep here tonight in his Pullman," Anthony said. "He wants me to shoot the final tear-down tomorrow."

"OBie and I are going back to Boston for the night," Harryhausen said, eyeing the departing celebrities. Ford and O'Brien were talking, Schoedsack and Gluck listening, a tight square in the milling throng of overdressed humans. "I'll be glad to be out of this crowd." He turned and shook hands with Anthony and Peter. "See you in Tampa."

Harryhausen went off to stand beside O'Brien.

"He's a regular guy," Anthony said. "Most movie folks are something else. I'd like to see John Huston go up against that Cooper fellow in a ring, bare knuckles, nine rounds . . ." Peter's exhaustion suddenly hit him. "We need to rest," he said.

"Ever the practical fellow," Anthony chided. They left the tent and crossed the path to the sidetrack, where Gluck's Pullman waited. Summer twilight still lingered.

"Where's the venator kept?" Peter asked.

"In a big trailer across the field. They won't roll the animals onto the flatcars until the morning."

A high screech rose into the night. A few yards away, a roustabout swore.

"So," Anthony persisted, "what did you think?"

"It was wonderful," Peter said. "It was awful."

"Good," Anthony said. "Write it down before you go to sleep."

***

The train cars were each painted with animal skins or camouflage patterns: scales, long multicolored feathers, zebra stripes and leopard spots. The largest car of all, which carried Dagger, bore the distinctive brown and yellow colors and white stripes of the venator. Equipment was already being loaded as Anthony and Peter approached, and flashlight beams played back and forth beneath the clear, star-gloried sky. They passed a steady line of roustabouts packing up the paraphernalia into train cars, carrying rolls of thick ropes over their shoulders or slung between two men, iron bars and beams and collapsed sections of cages, welding equipment, and piles of other stuff Peter was too tired to identify.

Gluck's train car had been hooked to the very end of the train. It was the only one without camouflage, a long shiny dark red and green Pullman divided into four rooms.

They climbed the iron steps and knocked on the door. Gluck's Brazilian valet, Joey, let them in. "How was the show?" he asked them, smiling. He did not really need to ask.

"Great," Peter said.

"Tough to believe it's the last one," Anthony said.

Anthony and Peter were to sleep in the parlor, at the forward end, on couches made up as beds. Pictures covered the walls: lineups of the members of expeditions; cages filled with animals--lions and tigers, zebras and quaggas, as well as dinosaurs and avisaurs; celebrities who had seen the circus; performers in costume, and many smiling women in sleek, low-cut gowns. Peter scanned the photographs sleepily and spotted a tight row of framed glossies: Gluck standing beside Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a second picture with him and Josef Stalin, and a third with Adolph Hitler.

Gluck stood in the door to the parlor and puffed a cigar. The rank smoke stung Peter's eyes. The circus owner seemed agitated, talkative, sad.

"Did you get ssome good picturess?" he asked Anthony.

"Six rolls," Anthony said. "I think some will do."

"Ssomewill do, " Gluck repeated ironically, shaking his head. "Young fellowss, this was the last night of the best part of my life. The very best part. Do you think Shellabarger had his little dust-up with the venator for my benefit?"

"Doesn't he do that every show?" Anthony asked.

Gluck shook his head, eyes wide. "Oh, no-ooo," he said. "Thiss was special. This was a farewell, maybe jusst for me." Gluck lifted his cigar with a theatrical gesture, peering at it critically. "Maybe if he had done it more often, we would still have regular crowds. Of course, we might not have atrainer anymore . . ."

A loud shave-and-a-haircut rap sounded on the parlor door.

Gluck turned. "Yess, John," he roared. "I know your knock anywhere. Come in. I've been expecting you."

Peter wondered if John Ford had come to the car to visit, but it was not the director. A small, dapper man with a broad forehead and close-cut jet-black hair swung the cherrywood door open, entered the Pullman, brandished a long cigar, and grinned at Gluck. He wore a beautifully tailored striped suit. A brass-tipped ebony cane hung from his elegantly manicured forefinger.

"Quite a show, Lotto," he said in a pleasant tenor. "Quite. . . a . . . show."

"John Ringling North," Gluck said, "may I introduce Anthony Belzoni and his son, Peter?"

"Part of this whole movie scheme?" North asked, his eyes sharp.

"Magazine, sir," Anthony said."National Geographic."

"Ah. Always sad to see a great show fold," North said. He tapped his cane lightly on the carpeted floor. "Well, Lotto, you got my offer."

"I have," Gluck replied with a nod.

"It's a reasonable offer, you old bandit," North said. "I'll take everything--the rig, the transportation, the Tampa base--your remaining acts and employees, though God knows they need pruning. I'll even take old Baruma. She'll make quite an attraction."

A recent picture of Baruma stood on Gluck's desk. "Lotto Gluck's fabled sauropod, Baruma, now over sixty feet in length," read a caption clipped from a newspaper and pressed against the glass below the photograph.

"We haven't toured her in ten years," Gluck said, taking a seat at a round table set with a Tiffany lamp and a brass ashtray.

"I'll turn the Tampa base into a fairground," North said. "Bring easterners down for the winter, and old Baruma can drag Gargy around in his cage. Won't that be a fine sight?"

Peter looked up at Anthony. Anthony leaned over and whispered in his ear,"Gargantua." Then Peter knew who John Ringling North was: the owner of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. Gargantua was his giant and temperamental gorilla.

"It will be, but only if you own it," Gluck said sadly.

North approached the table and tapped his cigar into the ashtray. "I had a wonderful dinner this evening. Oh, not here--sorry to have missed the event. In Boston." His face fairly glowed for an instant at the memory. Suddenly, without warning, his eyes turned steely and his voice took an edge. "Dammit, Lotto, you haven't made money from this outfit in seven years--"

"Six," Gluck corrected him mildly.

"And you never toured the big gardens--why, you're not even in Boston Gardens tonight. You could have recouped some of your losses!"

Lotto's thick pale face assumed a look both wistful and proud. "For once I will tell you a trade secret, John. Madison Square Garden is a concrete nightmare. It is heated by steam and it is cramped and hard. The stalls down below are humid and the air is bad. There iss no room around the stage to walk the animals, and they musst all be brought up at the lassst minute, through many changes of temperature. My animals are like fine wines. If I had taken them in there, I would have lost all of them years ago--as you did, John. As you did."

North stood silent for a moment. "The Cincinnati fire in '42 took the better part of my dinos," he said quietly. "But I saw they were a lost cause even then. The public doesn't mind leaky canvas and buckets of rain, they don't mind dust and noise and mosquitoes, but . . . they hate to be eaten. They hate to be dinner. Havana was the real end. Bad news and disaster everywhere." North turned to Peter. "You aren't old enough to remember it all, boy. Some called it Challenger's curse. Preachers called the dinos abominations. It's bad press to claim Darwin is a fool and dinos and other extinct animals never existed, and then along comes Challenger . . ."

"Yes, yes," Gluck said. "Spare me, John. You smell money in it somewhere."

John Ringling North shook his head. "Lotto, I'll lose my shirt for at least two years. I've already got debts coming out of my ears."

"My life, my life," Gluck murmured, and delicately wiped a tear from one eye with a pudgy finger.

North admired this gesture with the proper respect: a parsimonious smile. "Final offer, old friend," he said.

"You will not have the beasts," Gluck said softly.

North's gaze sharpened. "Rumors . . ." he murmured. "True?"

"Except of course for old Baruma. She will stay in Tampa."

Anthony would not return Peter's look. Silence for several seconds, as North and Gluck stared at each other, one-time adversaries, as ruthless as they ever came; and then:

"What would I do with them, anyway?" North said, examining his cigar. "Put them out to pasture? Got enough horses and elephants freeloading already."

"One last thing," Gluck said, and stood.

"What?" North asked.

"You will park my Pullman permanently at the headquarters, and I will come and stay whenever I wish, for as long as I wish."

"Of course." North waved the cigar at this trifle.

"And you will listen to everything Vince Shellabarger tells you, about keeping Baruma alive and healthy. No touring for her, no Madison Square Garden, no steam heat--okay?" "Done." He waved the cigar again and winked at Peter.

"Then she is all yours: a dinosaur circus with only one dinosaur. And I keep my collection of memorabilia, of posters and artifactss, paintings and photo albums and costumes."

"It's a fine collection," North said. "I'd be proud to add it to my own. I'd even up the deal a little."

"I willkeep my collection," Gluck insisted.

North tapped his cane sharply on the floor of the railroad car, smiled like the very devil, and said, "Done."

Gluck and North shook hands.

Joey came out with a bottle and several glasses on a tray. North stayed for a few minutes to share a brandy with Gluck and Anthony and regale them all with tales of the fine dinner he had had.

Finally, after Gluck's brandy ran out, and Peter felt himself drifting into an exhausted gray haze, North left and he was able to climb into the made-up couch-bed. The couch's dark red tuck-and-roll leather squeaked beneath the stiff clean sheets. After spreading out his equipment on an end table, Anthony lay down in his clothes across from his son. He planned to rise at dawn and shoot a roll or two of film.

Joey turned out the lights.

Before Peter could get to sleep, another knock sounded on the cherrywood door. Joey came out in his robe, muttering in Portuguese, and answered it. Two men in gray hats and long black coats entered the car and stood restlessly until Gluck came out in his pajamas to see them.

Anthony stared at Peter from his couch opposite. Only the porch light had been turned on. Gluck and the two men conferred for several minutes in low voices. Peter heard several words, and a name: "quarantine restrictions waived," and "Truman." Gluck clapped his hands and laughed and said, loudly enough, "Jolly! Joll-eee."

The two men left and Joey closed the door behind them. Gluck grinned at Peter and Anthony in the dark, then retired to his bedroom without saying a word.

Peter, so exhausted just minutes before, was now wide awake. Anthony grinned at him, then rolled over and pulled up the blanket around his neck.

BOOK: Dinosaur Summer
5.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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