The Angel of Death - Episode 8
After I dropped off my tapes and gear at the end of Leg Seven, I took Bertie’s advice and got some sleep. I had been running on fumes for the last couple of days and really needed to recharge my batteries. Besides, we were in the middle of the freaking Serengeti, and I was all out of booze.
I was out of cigarettes, too. Previous experience up in the Sudan had taught me that in Africa, I could get good smokes, or cheap smokes, but not both. My pay was going into my account in L.A., the nearest ATM was 14 hours away, and my wallet was just about bare. I had no desire to smoke cow shit, and no money to smoke anything else. I could have probably hit up Eddie G. for something a little stronger than tobacco, but I had found that the Race itself was mood-altering enough. The bottom line was that it was cold turkey time again. And that was always easier if I was rested up.
I managed to squeeze in almost a full eight hours, and so I was feeling mostly human again when I went to get my gear and next assignment. On my way over, I passed Larry going the other way, carrying his pack.
“Aw, crap, Larry. They let you go?”
“Not likely. But I am leaving.”
I raised a querying eyebrow.
“Ah, I got a better offer. There’s a crew here from Discovery, going to head south chasing some Cape buffalo. They’re camped just up the way and they stopped by. One of their cameramen just had a major malaria relapse. I worked with the location producer a couple of years ago, and he set me up as a replacement.”
“So you drag my ass onto this race, and then you quit halfway through. Way to go Larry. Or should I call you Lance?”
He just laughed. “Come on, Frank, you know this sort of thing isn’t really my game, anyway. Animals are a lot easier to film than people. More predictable. And look, if you really aren’t into it any more, just say the word. I’m sure I can bring you along.”
“A wildlife job? Cape buffalo? No. No way”
“You know, I’ve never understood why you won’t even try…”
“Look, I don’t do animals, okay? I just don’t.”
“All right then. Well, see you around.”
“Yeah, see ya. And Larry… watch your back. Never trust a buffalo.”
With Larry gone, I was back working with Jerzy. That suited me fine; he carried cigarettes, but they were usually some vile eastern European brand, with cloves or garlic or something in them, so I’d be able to stay clean. Things were looking up. And then our team arrived.
“So are you two…”
“…my new crew” they asked.
“Hoh crap,” whispered Jerzy. I just shuddered.
It was the Twins. They looked at us like a pair of blue-eyed blonde mantises. Then, with a cold ruthless efficiency that would become all too familiar, they tore into the clue and started reading.
“Take one of the marked…”
“…taxis and drive to Kilimanjaro. In…”
“…Kilimanjaro, sign up for one…”
“…of three charter flights to…”
“…Nairobi. Once in Nairobi, fly to Dubai and…”
“…pick up your next clue across…”
“…the road from the Burj Al-Arab…”
Hoh crap, indeed.
It was a long, creepy cab ride back to Kilimanjaro. I spent the first 30 minutes flinching every time they spoke.
“Driver are you…”
“…sure that you…”
“…know where you…”
“…are going? I…”
“…really need to…”
“…get there quickly.”
I was so put off by the way they talked that I didn’t actually listen to what they were saying. Eventually they quieted down a bit, and I rewound the tape. I had to hear what they sounded like; I was worried that they’d be hell to edit.
I didn’t need to worry. They sounded like perfectly normal people talking. Or actually, like one perfectly normal person talking. As I listened, I started to get a nagging feeling that I was missing something.
My reflections were interrupted when the Twins saw another taxi by the side of the road and told their driver to pull over. I put a new tape in and started recording. Our taxi hadn’t stopped moving when one of the doors was pulled open.
“I Need Your Spare Tire!”
I looked over and found myself staring into the Abyss. It stared back.
“Oh, hi Colin. Having…”
“…a little trouble? Sure…”
“…you can have my spare...”
“…All my tires are…”
“…fine, so I don’t think…”
“…I’ll need it.”
The Abyss disappeared from the door. I heard a violent creaking of metal, and then a loud “pop!” as the trunk was wrenched open. I leaned out the open door and watched our packs fly out onto the road. Then the trunk slammed down again and Abyss boy – Colin, I guess - was off up the road, carrying the spare.
“Gotta Go Fix This Damn Cab Now Bye!”
“Bye Colin! That’s…”
“…fine, I’ll put…”
“…my bags back myself.”
And just as quickly as we stopped, we were off again. A couple of minutes down the road, the Twins got to talking over what had just happened. An odd thing happened; their sentences got longer.
“He never would have stopped for me.”
“That’s my problem, I’m always too nice.”
“I need to stop being so nice.”
“That’s it, I’m not stopping for anyone else.”
“I’m not triple-A.”
When they had finished, I rewound and listened again. What I was hearing sounded like nothing more than the sort of conversations I have. With myself. In my head.
I was starting to realize that when one of the Twins says she’s got half a mind to do something, she isn’t kidding.
We eventually got to the airport, where we faced a long wait. The teams all hung out together in the lounge – except for Colin, who had disappeared somewhere with his partner – so I had a chance to sneak off and do some thinking.
I listened to my tapes over and over. Two things became apparent. The first was that I seemed to be travelling with only one racer. I’m a pro, I had made the tape myself, and I couldn’t even tell that there were two people talking on the tape.
The second was that if the Twin was really one person, that person? Was not a rocket scientist. Not a rocket scientist’s assistant, either. Probably not the person who makes coffee for the rocket scientist.
It was clear. The Twin was creepy. It was unworldly. It was probably pure evil. But it was also remarkably stupid. I didn’t need to be afraid of it; it was like being afraid of a sack full of sledgehammers. Sure, it could kill you if it dropped on your head, but face it: not the brightest of foes. Any moderately evolved mammal – a lemur, say – could probably out-think it. And I’m a damn sight smarter than a lemur.
I was starting to think this might be fun.
Our tickets were booked to Dubai already, so there wasn’t much to be done there. Dubai itself was another story. We got off the plane and the Twin took off at a run. This was a good sign; that much enthusiasm coupled with a total lack of forethought was the sort of thing I could work with.
We hopped into a cab and headed for the Bruj Al-Arab. As we approached, the Twin saw a clue box beside the road.
“Driver! Pull over here, driver, that’s fine.”
Time to break out the Arabic again. “My friends are confused. Please take us to the hotel.”
The driver nodded and kept moving.
“No, here, stop here! Why isn’t he stopping here?”
I shrugged. “I dunno, I’m trying to ask him, too. Yes, that’s good, keep going please.”
“My driver isn’t listening!”
“I’ve got your tip, habibi.”
That slowed them down, but not enough, as it turned out. The next clue, inside the hotel, wouldn’t be available until the next morning. This turned out to be good news for me and Jerzy. Linda and Karen had been on a later flight into Dubai, but they were now able to catch up to us. We all ended up back together, hanging out at a McDonald’s and waiting for the hotel to open.
Yeah, I know. Overnight in one of the rowdiest cities in Arabia, and we? Go to Mickey D’s. Like I said before, money was tight.
Bright and early the next morning, we all lined up and went into the hotel. The teams all had to go up in an elevator to the heliport. Things were crowded, so only four crew went with them. I had drawn a short straw, so I was one of the lucky ones who got to ride in a small elevator with 13 other people, none of whom had showered in a week, while my colleagues sat around in the lobby drinking coffee.
The ride up gave me the first chance I had had in a while to assess who was left in the race. There was my Twin, of course, who mostly just looked confused. Linda and Karen were whooping and hollering and generally enjoying the ride. Also enjoying themselves were a couple, a nice-looking lady called Kim and her enormous husband, Chip. Chip was a legend among the crew; we had all heard about his prodigious eating capacity. There were rumours that Bertie had cranked up the extreme food quotient of this race just to see if there was anything he couldn’t eat. Another couple held hands and stared beatifically out the window; this had to be Brandon and Nicole. Larry had told me that they had tried to save his soul, and had insisted on being assigned a different cameraman when he assured them that he’d sold it to Ted Turner years ago. And finally, there was my old friend from the road side, Abyss boy himself, Colin. He stared out the window – he pretty much stared at everything – and then back at his girlfriend, Christie.
Colin had been a bit subdued for the last day or so, ever since we flew out of Kilimanjaro. I wasn’t sure exactly what he had been up to while the rest of us were waiting for our flights, but I had heard rumours about a brief stay in an African police station. I hung back a bit and watched him run out of the elevator. His gait was definitely a little bit bow-legged. Well that would explain the demand for a kiss: someone had something to prove to himself.
The next clue sent us back down the elevator and into Dubai, in search of a dhow. This was the start of a long day of cabbing back and forth around town looking for obscure locations. It was ideal for my purposes. The drive to the hotel the night before had made it clear that the Twin was happy for me to use my Arabic to help with giving and receiving directions. Oh, I was helping alright. I was helping it all the way to a two-week vacation in Sequesterville.
Eventually, in spite of my best efforts, the Twin found its way to a Detour clue. It had to choose between tandem sky-diving and driving through the desert. Clearly comfortable with the idea of doing a task while attached to another being – how surprising – the Twin opted for the sky-diving. Just as well, I thought; while desert navigation held out an excellent prospect of finishing dead last, with the Twin it also held out an excellent prospect of finishing dead, period. I had no intention of leaving my bones to bleach in the sun just yet, so I fully supported its decision.
Much to my surprise, however, there were other teams just as lost as mine.
“That’s Brandon and Nicole. If I go fast enough, we might be able to beat them. I have to look for the flag.”
And soon enough, there was the flag, coming up on the left.
“Is that the flag? I think that’s the flag.”
Time for direct action. “I didn’t see a gate, though. Maybe the gate is further along?”
Was the Twin bright enough to realize that it wasn’t actually supposed to listen to me?
“I don’t see a gate. Maybe it’s further along.”
Five minutes of driving and internal debate followed.
“I’m sure that was the flag. But I didn’t see a gate. Should I have kept going? Maybe I should turn back. I don’t know. Okay, I’m going to turn back.”
We did turn back, but by then it was too late. Brandon and Nicole had seen the flag too, but without my capable assistance they actually paid attention to it. By the time we got our cab parked and ran to the sky-diving office, they were already suiting up. The Twin was looking at a 45-minute wait.
After the air-conditioned cabs I had been in all day, the airfield was hot. Stinking hot. The Twin was just sitting around waiting for the plane, head twitching back and forth. I spent about five minutes getting some bickering on tape and then excused myself. I went looking for anything resembling a breeze. Or a beer.
Another five minutes made it clear that neither was available on the airfield. It was in a desert, after all, and so I guess a cool draft of air was too much too hope for. As to a cool draft, it seemed that they didn't want their pilots getting high before take-off. Spoilsports.
I decided to settle for shade and headed for the side of a hangar. As I approached, a burly Arab in a burnoose turned towards me and held out a pack of cigarettes.
“No thanks, I’m… God, Wayne! Not again! Didn’t I leave you in Giza?”
“You can’t leave me, Frank. I’m incorporeal! Besides, I’m just a false creation proceeding from your heat-oppressed brain.”
“A hallucination, Frank. A bogey called up from your unconscious whenever your super-ego figures your id is getting too big for its britches.”
“No shit. The real Wayne would never have quoted Macbeth – he’d pull something out of Batman. And he was a Jungian; though Freud was full of it.”
“You’re just trying to keep me from calling an exorcist.”
He grinned. “Maybe. Anyhoo, I haven’t got much time, I just want to say quit fucking around already! Didn’t we go through this before?”
“Sure we did. You told me to stop interfering, to just be the observer.”
“Well, I did some more thinking. Heisenberg.”
“Nice try, unconscious-boy. Heisenberg. Famous physicist, who developed the uncertainty principle.”
“Which states that you can never know everything. Not even you, jackass. Which also states that the mere act of observing an event, changes it.”
“So what? So, I’m already changing things! Just by rolling tape, I’m changing things! I’m soaking in it! And even sitting back and doing nothing, I’m still knocking teams out of the race. So I figure, if I’m changing things anyway, and if I’m eliminating teams just by being there, what difference does it make what I do? They’re going down anyway; why can’t I throw an elbow in now and then?”
He looked stunned. “No, no, you don’t understand…”
“I think I do.”
“No, no, it’s one thing to play your role as fate dictates, but you’re ad-libbing bro! You’re off-message. You’re playing with fire!”
“Right. As far as I can see, the only ones who are in any danger are the poor bastards who get me as their sound guy.”
“Frank, I’m serious. Don’t mess with this. Look at me. What do I look like?”
“Like a dead roadie.”
“That’s right. And why am I a dead roadie? ‘Cause I stopped being satisfied with being a live one. I might have been okay if I stuck with CNN, but oh no, I had to go do something different. I had to stop being myself. Face it, do I look like someone who should have been on a crew filming Cape buffalo?”
“Well, you kind of look like a Cape buffalo…”
“Ha, ha. Sure, mock the dead guy. All I’m saying is, I never should have been there. If I had stuck to what I was supposed to be, I’d be backstage right now doing coke with a bunch of Aerosmith groupies. But I didn’t, so I’m in the ground with a hoofprint right through my fucking head! Stop being an asshole!”
He held up his hand. “No, I’m done talking. Listen, don’t listen, see if I care. I’m just a dead guy after all. What do I know?”
And he was gone.
Thoroughly shaken, I went back to where the Twin was sitting. And let me tell you, when hanging out with it is a refreshing dose of the mundane? Things have gotten odd. Fortunately, by the time I got back, it had settled into a grumpy silence to await the plane.
When the plane returned from dropping off Brandon and Nicole, the Twin hustled aboard. The location producer called Jerzy and I over.
“There’s not really room for the whole crew in there. We’ve got helmet cams and stuff set up; you guys can stay on the ground. We’ve got a truck to take you to the landing site.”
We climbed aboard and took off down the road. I had a bit of time to think about what Wayne had told me. In the end, I decided, even if he was right, things had gone all right so far. It wasn’t as if I was doing anything really different than what I would have done anyway. A word here, a look there… these racers were pretty easy to mess with, and I didn’t have to step in front of any horny Cape buffalo to do it.
By the time we pulled in at the landing site, I had pretty much convinced myself that I was in the right. I counted three trucks parked there, and then looked up and saw two parachutes spiralling down. I knew that Brandon and Nicole were miles ahead. It looked like my curse was working as planned.
The Twin landed – safely, more’s the pity – and got the clue that would lead it to the Pit Stop. Camels were involved. I remembered Wayne, and the buffalo, and decided to hang back just a little. I wasn’t too worried about sound; I had plenty of “this way… no, that way” from earlier in the day to splice in if we needed it.
The Twin seemed to think that it might not be in last place, but I was pretty sure it was wrong. I have to admit that there was a bit of swagger in my step when I walked up to the Pit Stop. The Twin headed for Phil, and Jerzy and I went to drop off our gear. Bertie was waiting for me.
“Mission accomplished, Mr. B. No more Twin.”
He stared at me. “Er, I mean, Mr Van Munster. Bertie.”
“No more twins, Frank?”
“Well, uh, yeah. It’s, er I mean, they’re last. It’s what I do, right? Get teams eliminated?”
He stared coldly. “Who said I wanted them eliminated, Frank?”
Uh oh. “Well, you did assign me to i- them, didn’t you? I thought you wanted them… Aren’t they supposed to be…”
He stared at me a few seconds longer and then barked out a laugh. “Ha! You sure are easy to tweak. Yes, yes I assigned them to you. But it is also true that I didn’t want them eliminated. They’ll be back.”
“You mean this was non-elimination? So why did you waste it on them?”
He put his arm around my shoulder and walked me towards the crew tent. “Son, you’re a good sound man but you don’t know much about good TV, do you? Let me paint you a picture… two pretty young blonde girls, no money, trapped in the desert with only their feminine wiles to help them… now that’s what I call television.”
That’s what I call hell. But I guess that’s why he’s an Executive Producer, and I’m just an Angel of Death.
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