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Authors: Greg Bear

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

Dinosaur Summer (8 page)

BOOK: Dinosaur Summer
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"Father!" Peter whispered loudly.

"Yeah?"

"Who was that?"

"Some men, Peter. Just making plans."

Peter knew by his tone that Anthony would not tell him any more. He stared up at the shadows on the ornate ceiling, listening to the the roustabouts still working in the darkness, hammering and pulling and singing.

Chapter Five So ended the days of the last dinosaur circus. For the last time, the tents had been folded and tied and shoved into wooden racks in their trucks, the bleachers collapsed and rolled into the boxcars, the animals in their cages and trailers pushed along the platform onto the flatcars and covered with canvas, the concession stands and cook shack dismantled and hauled away. Anthony had gotten his pictures, and by nine o'clock the train began rolling.

Most of the roustabouts seemed to think they were going to Tampa. Peter looked out the window intently, hoping to catch glimpses of the cars ahead as they rounded a curve. He had not slept well.

Whenever Peter let his mind explore the possibilities, he got the willies. He looked at the sun and frowned. They were going into Boston, not heading south.

After a breakfast of bacon and eggs, prepared and served by Joey, Peter took out his notebook and wrote down what he had seen.

I know Sammy the centrosaur gets out and chews grass, but Dagger the venator is never free. They can never let him out to wander. No cage is big enough for him to run aroundin. It's worse than any tiger or polar bear. By now he's probably gone mad. That makes me sad.

I enjoyed meeting Mr. O'Brien. He's old--but he looks strong, like an old boxer. Ray Harryhausen is a nice fellow. He doesn't treat me like a kid.

Poking the eraser tip against his chin, Peter looked out the window at the passing backs of brick and stone buildings, fish processing plants, canneries.

Maybe Father has been sworn to secrecy, but I wish he would trust me. Who else knows, I wonder? What do they know?

***

The train passed through a switching yard and was diverted to a long wharf beside an austere black-hulled freighter. As the train came to a jerking halt, wheels squealing and brakes hissing, Peter saw that the ship bore the name S.S.Libertad on its bow and across its stern. Its home port was Caracas.

Caracas was in Venezuela.

Joey stood by the parlor window as Gluck finished some last-minute bookkeeping on a pull-down oak desk in the corner. "I'd sure like to go south again," the valet said with a mischievous grin. "It gets cold up here in the winter." He turned his black eyes on Peter. "You ever been down by the equator?"

Peter shook his head.

"You will think you were never cold in your entire life. Heat will fill you like a big mug of hot tea and insects will cover you day and night. You have to watch for poisonous snakes. They're as common as cracks in a city sidewalk; especially the parrot snake, big and green. It floats along with the river and attacks anything that comes near. Deadly poisonous. And then there are the ants. Some ants make their cities in trees, and if you bump that tree, they send armies out to swarm you. Make you wish you'd never been born. Ants are the real bosses of the forests. They can be big, and the worst of them are called veintecuatros because if they bite you, you have twenty-four hours to decide whether to live or die."

Gluck looked up from his cheeks and records. "Joey, don't sscare the boy," he said dryly. "None of uss was ever bitten."

Joey raised his eyebrows. "Last time we were in the forest, I brushed ants out of Mr. Gluck's sleeping bag every night," he said in an undertone, winking. "Big ants. And when you go swimming or dip your hand in the water to cool off--look out for thecaribe! Some folks call thempiranha."

"There are nocaribe orpiranha in the Caron� Gluck said with a smile. Clearly, he appreciated the showmanship Joey was demonstrating.

"But the tepui is better," Joey continued, "for it is cooler. High up, and covered with clouds. Not as many insects as on thesabana, but what there are, you watch out for . . . Mosquitoes big as starlings and biting flies like hot needles zuzzing through the air!"

"He exaggerates," Gluck called from across the parlor.

"Not much," Joey said.

Peter stared at them in shock, speechless. He turned to look at Anthony, who was gathering his camera equipment.

"I thought we were going to Tampa," he said. Joey laughed and slapped his knees.

Anthony raised his brows innocently. "They're going to unload the animals. Want to come see?"

***

"Whereare we going, Father?" Peter asked as they walked alongside the brightly colored animal cars.

"I thought you would have figured it out by now," Anthony said.

"Did they tell you?"

"They told me to be prepared. And I'm still keeping my mouth shut until we're on that ship--if we ever get aboard. We've been disappointed before. I'll let Cooper and Schoedsack confirm things."

Peter clenched his fists.

They met Harryhausen and O'Brien near the biggest train car. The dismantled cages from the center ring had been mounted on a huge wooden pallet. A big rolling crane on its own tracks had straddled the train, lowering on thick steel cables a hook almost as big as Peter. Stevedores--dockside workers, big and brawny and wearing sweat-stained T-shirts-- joined with the circus roustabouts to strut and tell stories, waiting for the action to begin. Anthony wandered off to take pictures of the men.

"What do you know about this?" Peter whispered to Harryhausen

Harryhausen said, "OBie says we may have more work than we thought--for several months, at least. Monte and Coop--Mr. Schoedsack and Mr. Cooper--didn't want the newspapers to know until it was a sure thing. Whateverit is."

O'Brien's camera crew and several reporters and newsreel photographers were also waiting. Harryhausen introduced them to the two-man crew: Caleb Shawmut and Stony Osborne. Shawmut stood little more than five feet tall, and with his round grizzled blond head and short jaw, resembled a pugnacious bulldog. Osborne was dark and lean and intense and seldom said anything.

Osborne complained about giving up the lease on his apartment in Los Angeles. "Took the goddamned airplane," he said. "Last minute flight. My first time. Got sick in the little bag. This better be good, OBie!"

O'Brien warned the newsreel men to stay out of his sight lines. Harryhausen drew diagrams on a big sketch pad and pointed out camera positions. Shawmut and Osborne efficiently laid steel track for the dolly.

Anthony surveyed the shadows and bright sky, then took his Leica up and down the length of the Libertad for the sixth time that morning.

"Your dad's particular," O'Brien said.

"He just wants to know where to be when the action begins," Peter said.

"Me, too," O'Brien said. "Only I've got two guys behind big hunks of metal. Not very flexible once we're set up." O'Brien watched the brawny stevedores with a grin. "They remind me of boxers," he said. "Used to do a little boxing. I was a wild one when I was a boy. How about you? You give your daddy a rough time?"

"No," Peter said.

"How's he going to know what it's like to be a dad?"

O'Brien's tone was jocular, but beneath the banter lay something large and distant and sad. Peter felt uneasy, but Anthony, passing on another foray close to the train, heard OBie's question and laughed. "Peter's my mainstay," he called. "He keeps me out of trouble."

OBie gave Peter a respectful, amused look. "So maybe you're the dad?"

Peter grinned and gave a little nod.

"They're going to unload the venator first," Harryhausen said. "They think he'll stay calm if he can't see what's happening." While they waited for the cables to be rigged, he took up the sketch pad and began drawing the venator and the roustabouts. Peter looked over his shoulder. In the drawing, the venator was busting out of the cage, toothy jaws gaping, big clawed toes spread wide, scattering panicked workmen in all directions.

Peter looked at the cage, then at Dagger's train car, which was quiet. "I hope you're wrong about that," he said to Harryhausen, pointing to the sketch.

"IfI were in charge, things would be a lot more exciting," Harryhausen admitted. "Do you draw?"

"A little. I'm not very good."

"Takes practice. OBie and I sketch a lot. We could teach you."

"Sure," Peter said, his spirits lifting a little. A man with a forklift unloaded big flat black iron plates one by one from the forward end of the venator's car. The plates were lined up along a steel scaffolding that led to the cage, and Peter realized this was another assembly of the runway that had guided the venator into the center ring. He admired the flexible design. The circus workers had had years of experience, perfecting the handling of these animals--even the venator.

Anthony stopped his pacing and focused his camera on the cage. "They're going to hang his breakfast from the top bars," he told Peter.

O'Brien gave the signal and one big Mitchell camera on a heavy tripod whirred, running on power from a small crate full of car batteries.

A roustabout entered the cage with a stepladder and strung chunks of beef from the bars on the inside of the runway. He and two others lifted and hung a whole haunch from the top of the cage. As they folded the ladder to leave, another roustabout made a move as if he were going to slam the cage door and lock it. The men inside stretched out their thumbs in unison, poked them between the first two fingers of their fists, and thrust them defiantly at the other. The workers laughed.

"Cut," O'Brien yelled, disgusted. "Hey, guys, this is a family film, okay?"

Harryhausen put away his drawing of the rampant venator and sat on the seat behind the big camera mounted on the dolly. Shawmut and Osborne prepared to push him along the steel tracks.

Out of nowhere, startling Peter, Shellabarger appeared, clutching a cup of coffee and frowning at the commotion. Gluck walked beside the train with hands pushed deep into his pockets. He wore a dark blue suit and vest.

"Looks like we're taking your babies back home, Lotto," Shellabarger said.

"Yess," Gluck replied, shaking his head. "I give them to you now. They're all yours until you set them free."

Peter felt the sweat bead under his arms and on his back.

O'Brien shouted, "Slate it,rolling!"

The right-hand door on the big car rumbled open. Peering into the gap where the iron plates covering the runway did not quite meet the car, Peter saw a quick brown motion. The car rocked slightly, then the ramp bowed under a heavy weight. They all heard a low chuff and snort.

"Blowing out the morning boogers," Shellabarger said. "I do the same thing myself--don't you?"

Peter forced a grin.

"Maybe it wantss some of your coffee, Vince," Gluck suggested.

Eight men with hook-tipped wooden poles lined up along the runway. Harryhausen sat behind the camera as Shawmut and Osborne rolled it smoothly toward the ramp and runway. The camera panned the length of the runway to take in the expectant roustabouts and the cage sitting on the loading pallet. "Not very exciting, all covered like that," O'Brien commented.

Everybody's eyes followed the progress of the venator as it walked down the steel-sheeted runway. Ropes holding the pieces of meat snapped one after another. Peter could hear Dagger's big jaws crunching and chewing, then, near the cage, the top of the runway banged. Shellabarger wryly lifted the corner of one lip and mimed the big beast leaning his head back to jerk at the piece of meat. Shellabarger's nose bumped his flattened hand, representing the top of the runway. Peter nodded, then turned back. Anthony had positioned himself beside the cage, his camera lens poking into a gap between the plywood sheets covering the cage.

"He's in," Shellabarger said, tapping out a cigarette from a box. He stared at the cigarette with a disgusted frown, and then at Peter. "I only smoke when we're transferring the animals."

"All right," shouted Rob Keller, the chief roustabout. "Close him off and shut the car door." The door rumbled and clanged. Two men climbed to the top of the cage and secured the hook. The cage vibrated once but the venator seemed quiet.

A man in a black coat and pants, wearing a broad-brimmed white officer's hat set with gold stars and braid, strolled toward the assembly, hands gripped behind his back.

"I amCapitan Ippolito," he said to the group. "Who isSe�Shellabarger?Se�Gluck?"

"I'm Shellabarger."

"The loading is going well?" Ippolito's long brown face and dark, amused eyes took them all in quickly, judging and cataloging his passengers.

"Fine so far," Shellabarger said.

"I am still expecting clearance from your Department of State. Have the officials arrived yet?"

"Haven't seen them," Shellabarger said. "Mr. Gluck tells me we got our verbal OKs last night."

"You have been in the hold to look over the work our men did last night?"

"Everything's shipshape," Shellabarger said.

"Good," Captain Ippolito said. "You know these animals better than I. But if there is a storm, some difficulties, or we have to wait in port a week or so--not unusual in Venezuela--all will still be well?"

Gluck stepped forward. "Your concern is undersstandable,Capitan, but I believe all iss in order."

Ippolito leaned his head to one side, politely neutral.

The big crane's motor began reeling in the slack on the cable to the venator cage. The hook tugged at the cables and the cage shuddered on its pallet. The venator's two tons did not seem to bother the crane or its motor in the least. The pallet rose flat and smooth and from inside the cage came an almost comic snort of query.

"For a moment, just like itss coussins," Gluck said, smiling. "It flies."

The cage was twenty feet from the ground when the venator decided to get upset. It paced back and forth, making the big cage sway on the end of the cable. The swaying agitated the beast even more and it made a staccato screeching sound, then a deep-throated bellow. The plywood covering the cage bent outward and Peter heard that unforgettable racket of tail banging against bars.

BOOK: Dinosaur Summer
4.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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