The Angel of Death

The Angel of Death - Episode Three

After seeing that Alison and Donny got their just desserts – two more weeks of each other – at the end of Leg 2, I started to be concerned that I would be leaving the race too, just when I was starting to enjoy myself. But with another team gone, another crew was surplus to needs. I was worried for myself, and for Larry. I felt guilty for doubting him when he got me this gig, and I didn’t want to see both of us out of a job again. We were pretty relieved when the producer pulled us aside to let us know that we’d be hanging around.

“I’ve heard a couple of rumours,” he said, looking sideways at me, “but I don’t much care. CBS may have made us take Alison, but they couldn’t make us keep her. If I have you to thank for that, so much the better. And I’ll get you a better team this time, I promise.”
I hadn’t felt this good about a job since I recorded five solid minutes of Peter Arnett yelling “Fuck me! Fuck me!” while hiding under a table during the bombing of Baghdad back in ‘91.
Things were definitely looking up. I hadn’t felt this good about a job since I recorded five solid minutes of Peter Arnett yelling “Fuck me! Fuck me!” while hiding under a table during the bombing of Baghdad back in ‘91. I was The Man.

Was I forgetting something? Oh yeah. Was I ever:

Rule 3 in The Sound Man’s Guide to Life: Don’t get too cocky. Sound men don’t have fan clubs.

Still, at the time, nothing could crack my mood. When a fat guy with a beard and the unmistakeable stench of a Racer elbowed me aside at the buffet table, grunted, and scooped the last four éclairs up in his grubby fist, I just smiled. I remembered him as one of the Flop Sweaters from Leg One. I asked some of the other crew about him.

“Oh yeah. That asshole,” said one of the cameramen. “He and his brother have got to be the laziest sonsofbitches who ever did this race. I think he’s allergic to running. No wonder they’re back in seventh place. The sooner they go back to making pizza, the better.”

Seventh place. Hmmm. I made a mental note, and decided to pick up some supplies.

I got about four hours of the sleep of the unduly confident and then got up to meet my new team. Another couple, but this time not so young and, I sincerely hoped, not so intimate either. They introduced themselves as Jim and Marsha. I recognized him as a tough old guy who spent most of the waiting time at LAX bleeding on the floor. I was surprised to see that he was still upright. They told me they were in third place

They opened the clue and discovered that we were going back to Buenos Aires, to the airport. As we ran to the head of a line of cars, I started counting back down the row. “Third place, fourth, fifth, sixth, and… drop.”

My pack hit the ground and rolled away. “Aw crap, hang on guys, I’ll be right there.”

Interesting Race note: they have quite an extensive crew to help install clue boxes and flags, and set up tasks for detours and roadblocks. This crew includes carpenters. As I crouched down for my bag, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a couple of nails. I decided three would be sufficient to fix their little red pizza wagon. I wanted enough damage that they wouldn’t make it to the airport, but not so much that the tire would be flat before they left. I got my gear together and ran back to the team.

I felt good. One team down, and another one in my sights.

We made it to the airport without any trouble. Jim and I really hit it off. It turns out that he had been in the Army for a long time, and between that and my own experiences back in Gulf War 1, we spent an enjoyable hour exchanging war stories. He was a pretty cool guy.

We got into the terminal a couple of hours before the ticket agents opened. Marsha got herself at the head of the line for Argentine Airlines, and I lay down for a quick nap on a bench. I was just dozing off when some loudmouth jackass walked by, yelling “Yeah, baby! Yeah!”

What the hell? I looked up. Large as life, and twice as smelly, there was Flop Sweater #1 strolling away down the concourse. They actually made it to the airport? I was stunned. Clearly, their extensive experience with spare tires – they each had their very own – had gotten them past my little impromptu roadblock. Stronger measures would be required.
Oh yeah, I thought. People buying airline tickets. That’ll be some must-see TV.
Larry woke me up when the ticket counter opened. “C’mon, we gotta get this on tape.” Oh yeah, I thought. People buying airline tickets. That’ll be some must-see TV. I was starting to see the appeal of this show, with the crazy stunts and the driving and the running, but this airline stuff was deadly. You’d have to be some kind of editing genius to make it exciting. Besides, I said to myself, it’s not like a flight booking is going to make the difference between winning and losing. Not when a team’s got me on their side.

Yeah, I know. I was buying myself a ticket on Hubris Airlines. First class.

We all had to get to a place called San Carlos de Bariloche, down in Patagonia. Over at the counter, Marsha was deep in negotiations. Gripping stuff. “I need two tickets on the 9:10.” Larry coughed. “Oh, sorry, four tickets. I mean two, and then two more.”

It turned out that there was only one seat left. Marsha took it, and then booked three more for the 10:30. And then another two for the team behind her in line. And then another two, when she was reminded about their crew. And then she started talking about stand-by. My eyes began to glaze over. Was any of this important?

Eventually, tickets bought, we left the counter and went for a coffee. The teams who had tickets were clustered around playing a bizarre form of airline poker. They’d look at their tickets and then glance around, trying to figure out who else had tickets for the same flight, who was earlier, and who was later. The aim of the game appeared to be to find out if there was any flight that left before the one you were on, without revealing the existence of your own flight to anyone who was leaving after you. It would probably have been a great game if the airport didn’t have giant freaking TV screens up all over the place, listing every flight. Still, some people seemed to treat their airline information like a state secret. I couldn’t figure it out. I mean, how hard could it be to find out if there was an earlier flight?

Half an hour before the 9:10 left, Marsha pulled out the tickets so we could get ready to go. All of us, except her, were on stand-by. She flipped through them, then turned pale and gulped. I gulped too. This did not look good. Still, I had a job to do.

Rule 9: Bad news for them? Good news for you.


Rule 9a: No statement beginning with “Um…” is going to end well. Roll tape!

It turned out that between booking tickets and stand-bys for us, for another team, and for pretty much anyone who had asked her, she had neglected to book herself on any flight except the 9:10. Which was rapidly filling up with people who weren’t us. She couldn’t get on it without us, and we couldn’t get on our flight at 10:30 without her.

She tried to get us priority on our stand-by, but the counter was already under siege from two other teams. One of the racers was standing on the scale, saying “I’m only sixty-five pounds! Can’t I go as luggage?” Another was just staring at the ticket agent. And staring. And staring.

Those teams ended up on the flight. We did not.

My own Hubris Airlines flight, however, was departing on schedule. As we headed back to the ticket agent to see about the 10:30, the Flop Sweaters passed us going the other way, towards the gate. I flagged down their sound guy.

“Where you going? The 9:10 left already.”

“Yeah, we’re on the Southwinds flight at 9:40. Didn’t your team know about that?”

A loud bray cut us off. “Come on, crew boy, we’re on the clock here!” He took off, and I went to catch up to my team, feeling sick.

After a bit of unsuccessful haggling at the ticket desk, we lined up for the 10:30 flight. This time, Marsha was on standby. We needed one seat. One lousy, stinking seat. Jim and Marsha sat down to wait it out. I decided it was time for more direct action.

There was a cloud of other racers and crew around the counter. With five teams still waiting for flights, we took up a lot of space. As I inched my way forward through the crowd, even I noticed the smell. I was surprised that we didn’t have the whole plane to ourselves once the other passengers caught wind of us.

The counter agent was looking pretty harassed. I could understand that; some of the racers were downright belligerent. She banished all of them back to the benches, saying she’d call them if any seats came open. I decided it was time for a touch of crew. I smiled. She smiled back. This looked good.

“Look,” I said in a low voice, “I’m not that invested in all this; I’m just doing a job. But my team over there, they’re really nice people.” I nodded towards Jim and Marsha. “They had a lot of trouble with the nine-ten flight – they really got screwed over, I have to say – and they’ve been working so hard. We only need one seat. Can you do anything for us?”

Her smile broadened. “Let me see sir. What can I do?” My heart swelled. “Well, first I can say that it’s a good thing you’re a sound guy.” She pointed at my microphone. “Because you’d be a lousy cameraman. I don’t suppose you remember who you saw at the ticket desk this morning when your friends got, what was the word, screwed?”

Oh. Shit. All the blood in my face began a slow, inexorable exodus towards my feet.

“Yes,” she nodded, seeing me go pale, “that was me. I’ll tell you what I can do. I can do what I told myself I would do to the next person who asked me for some sort of priority stand-by for some emergencia or some doctoro appointment. I can put your one seat at the bottom of my list. I can put it below the next four people who ask for stand-by, let alone the sixteen people on the list ahead of you now. Now fuck off before I call security.”

She was good, I have to say. Her smile never wavered once.
On Hubris Airlines, I reclined my seat and watched the movie: You’re Totally Fucked. Starring, Me.
On Hubris Airlines, I reclined my seat and watched the movie: You’re Totally Fucked. Starring, Me.

When boarding started, I sat glumly beside Jim and Marsha, recording every word. “They’re letting everyone on except us,” moaned Jim.

Hubris Airlines, you are now cleared for landing on runway Nice Going, Dipshit.

At 11:30, we finally got out of Buenos Aires. One thing I will say; we didn’t have any of those obnoxious race people cluttering up our plane. We had the flight practically to ourselves.

We got to Bariloche and high-tailed it out of the terminal, looking for our car. Jim and Marsha were putting a brave face on, determined to catch up if they could. I felt less optimistic, but I resolved to try to do something to help out. It was the least I could do.

We rocketed into town and made our way to the City Hall. We had to find the mayor and get our next clue. My team really hustled and soon enough we were on our way to our next destination, a chocolate factory. As we pulled up, I saw another Land Rover, just like our, pulling away. Could we still be in the race? We ran inside.

It was a roadblock, requiring someone with a sweet tooth. Jim agreed to do it, and put on an apron and chef’s hat. He had to go into the factory and bite his way through a pile of chocolates, looking for one with the white centre. (And by the way? That sucked. Most people try to avoid the coconut crème, they don’t go looking for it.)

We made our way into the back of the factory. It looked like a massacre in the Easter Bunny’s workshop: there were a few long tables scattered with chocolates, and the floor beneath them was coated in a brown, sludgy, morass. A slightly dazed looking little man in a chef’s hat presided over the whole scene. Jim headed into the room, tiptoeing through the mess on the floor.

I worked my way over to the little chef. “So, are we the last ones here?”

He nodded. “Yah. The last guys just left though.”

Guys? “Two men?” I asked.

He nodded again. “Yah. Fat, sweaty, and rude. Do you know, he called my chocolate disgusting? Disgusting! Hah. That didn’t stop him from eating four pounds of it.” He made a tsk-tsk sound. “They were in here forever.”

A small flower of hope sprouted in my breast. They weren’t that far ahead! And by the looks of things, they hadn’t left very many chocolates for Jim to search through. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes he found.

“Got it! Woo-hoo! Bleagh, coconut! Let’s go!” Jim got our clue from Chef Boy-ar-short and we took off. Next stop, the Villa Catedral gondola.

Marsha drove out of town like a demon. We made great time and as we pulled into the parking lot, I saw the other Land Rover still there. We hustled up to the base station just as the gondola was pulling away. I pulled the attendant aside. “Listen, was there another team on that gondola? A crew, like me and Larry here, and two loud smelly guys?”

“Yes, there were. Bastards. One of them pinched my ass.”

So close!

We rode up in the next gondola. At the top, the location producer flagged Larry and me down. “Okay, they’ve got a stunt to do up here. Paragliding. The location crew will cover it, so you guys can head down the mountain. Go to the landing site and pick your team up there. And don’t look so glum!” he grinned. “You’re almost done. It’s a pretty short leg. Once they finish this, you’re heading to the pit stop.”

Damn. Too close. I was running out of time. As we left the gondola base station, Larry asked me if I wanted a coffee. Coffee! Inspiration struck.

“Tell you what Larry, let me get these ones. I owe you. Meet you at the landing site?”

He took off and I headed into the coffee shop. “Two café con leche, please. And can I get some extra packets of sugar?”

“Si. How many?”

“Oh just a few. Thirty, forty maybe? Let’s say fifty. Actually, do you just have a whole bag?”

I brought Larry his coffee. “What took you so long? And what have you got on your pants?”
I looked back at the Flop Sweater’s Land Rover and grinned. Instant Karma. With sugar. Good to the last drop.
“Oh, uh, I just spilled some sugar. Took a while to clean it up.” I looked back at the Flop Sweater’s Land Rover and grinned. Instant Karma. With sugar. Good to the last drop.

A couple of minutes later, they came in for a landing and ran off to the parking lot. Well, ran isn’t quite right. Sauntered, perhaps. Strolled. “How’s it going?” I called to their crew. Their cameraman rolled his eyes and made the universal sign for jerking off. I was glad to see it wasn’t just me. As they pulled out of the parking lot I heard their engine rumble and backfire. I crossed my fingers.

Jim and Marsha seemed to be taking a lot longer to finish the paragliding. Like, a lot. I was starting to get worried. The other team was getting a real head start. Finally, they landed and we made our way to the Land Rover. Jim was looking a bit flushed, I have to say. I was getting a bit concerned about him.

All we had to do now was get to the Pit Stop, some island in a lake. The Flop Sweaters had a good lead on us, but I was hoping that three cups of refined white sugar would take care of that.

Rule 11: Remember Rule 3? Yeah. At the end of the day? You’re just the sound man.

We pulled into the parking lot at the Pit Stop. I counted the Land Rovers as we followed Jim and Marsha towards the lake. “…six, seven, eight. And us.”

Larry and I got pulled aside as our team headed off to the last round-up with Phil. With a heavy heart, I headed for the crew tent. We caught up to the guys who had been with the Flop Sweaters. “How did it go?” I had to ask.

Their camera guy shook his head. “I didn’t think we were going to make it, honestly. The engine was all fucked up. I’ve never seen anything like it. But they just kept driving, and it just kept moving.”

Yeah. Crap. Three legs, three teams. I was starting to wonder if it might be me.

Nah, couldn’t be. Could it?

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