There's a bit of history to this new tale by David Allen Smith. As one of the most recent contributors to the FanFic section of erblist.com, his enthusiasim is impeccable. His desire to "get it right" is admirable. Get it right means doing a good pastiche! As a writer of other things—not usually short stories and certainly not ERB-esque—there's been an "writer seeking an editor/mentor" give and take.
ON THE SET is actually an extension of a few things Tangor and DAS puttered with in emails. Part of the conversation and exploring ERB during his ANDERSON'S ROCKET submission was a comment he'd like to write a Tarzan tale. I suggested a Tarzan from a different point of view: ERB, a film set, and what happened? DAS replied some time later with an untitled idea that almost worked. (Tangor is a very difficult and demanding task-oriented editor!)
I wrote back with some ideas and suggestions and even included the "meat" of a humorous take as an example of what David might do. Well, he did do something with it, enough so I excised the part I wrote and published it as VOICE OF TARZAN in the short short Drabble category under my byline simply because Mr. Smith had found a more novel and intriguing story idea on his own. That said, ON THE SET is a rewrite of a rewrite, with a little color and ERB canon embellishment. The character of ERB is based in part on the adventurous Edgar Rice Burroughs as found in the ERB written fictional "Autobiography".
Disclaimer: No Animals Were Harmed or Injured In The Writting, Editing, or Publication of This Story.
— David Bruce Bozarth
ON THE SET
A Slice of Life
David Allen Smith
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2018
"Cut, cut, cut! Take fifteen," yelled the director.
From behind the fake foliage and movie cameras a tall athletic man emerged, wearing a loincloth. He moved gracefully for a big guy. Not an actor, but a champion swimmer, he'd been chosen from dozens of applicants to play the leading role. He'd out run, out swum and out climbed them all. Johnny Weissmuller had just finished a scene for Tarzan the Ape Man. Beside him stood scantily clad Maureen O'Sullivan—a lovely brunette and ideal mate for the cinematic ape man. She was smiling for the moment...
Out of nowhere a chattering chimpanzee scampered across the set, ran to a surprised Maureen and nipped her on the leg. A common occurrence. Still, she screamed.
The creature bounded away, then made a bee line for the director, who became the recipient of an unwanted hairy hug. "Somebody get that damn monkey out of here!" he cried. Eventually tranquility was restored. It was late afternoon.
* * * * *
A balding man in his 50s, wearing a gray three-piece suit, neared the set in Culver City. On a whim Edgar Rice Burroughs had driven from his ranch to witness production of the movie his most popular novel had inspired. Parking at Lot 1, he stopped the first person he saw. "Where are they filming Tarzan?" he inquired.
"About a hundred feet ahead, then to your left, Mr. Burroughs."
The sound stage was as large as an airlines hanger and at the studio entrance a flashing red light (and the sign beside it) indicated shooting was taking place. Burroughs lit a cigarette and puffed casually until the light went out. He tossed the butt to the asphalt roadway and entered.
A buzz of voices, sets being dragged about, and a sense of organized chaos met eye and ear. Burroughs sauntered past the greenery props, a story board plastered with shooting sketches, and a bored looking cantina girl presiding over two coffee makers and a ice filled box of soda waters and mint tea. Looking out to the stage area, brilliantly lit by towers of lights, Ed could not help but be impressed. These people knew their work as well as he knew his.
"Make way!" a grip called out. Ed stepped aside as the grip and helper repositioned yet another light fixture. Then, scanning his gaze, he spotted Johnny with a synthetic tree vine in his hand and "Jane" at his side. The two seemed perfectly matched. Ed was just about to speak...
"Let's shoot the lion scene again," shouted the director. Tarzan and Jane took their places. In rushed a lion, which nearly pounced upon Jane. The trainer then took the cat away as two grips tossed a stuffed lion at Tarzan which Johnny immediately wrestled with before dispatching it with a prop knife. A second camera showed Jane saved from certain death. Of course, the scene had to be shot a dozen times. High drama at its best, finally rewarded by, "Cut. Great work, Johnny!"
Ed watched the proceedings with devout interest. Now he came forward to greet the star, his right hand extended. "That was some great acting," he said enthusiastically.
"Thank you, Mr. Burroughs. That means a lot coming from you."
"You're going be famous, my boy. Tarzan is going be big, really big!"
"Too bad Herman Brix got hurt, sir. I know how much he wanted this part, but it's mine now and I'm gonna give it everything I've got."
"Of course you will, and I know Herman will be pulling for you. And how have you been faring, Maureen?"
"Very well, thank you. We leave for Algeria as soon as we're finished here."
Ed noted the pensive look on the young girl's face. "What is it, my dear?"
Maureen sighed. "Oh— It seems so silly, but things have gone missing from my dressing room. At times I feel like someone is watching me—"
To say the young lady was beautiful was an understatement. In fact, Ed was distracted to a degree which Mrs. Burroughs would likely not have approved. As a result he hardly seemed to grasp her concerns.
"Well... I'm— Oh, Johnny! Very pleased with what I've seen. I just wish Tarzan had a more vocal part," he said.
"I'm just following my script," Johnny explained.
"Of course you are, my boy."
"You know, I'm becoming more like Tarzan every day. I've always loved animals, and now I have an even deeper respect for them. And I prize the wholesome hero part I play."
It was plain to see that Johnny's innate character exemplified the Tarzan that Ed had hoped for: a strong man with a gentle spirit, a hunter with a sense of honor, a leader with an abiding sense of fairness. In short, Johnny's Tarzan was a knight in a loincloth. Plus, his honest empathy toward wild creatures would help audiences to identify with him.
"Say, when do you wrap up for today?" Ed asked.
"I think that was the last scene for the day, sir, but I'll ask." Johnny departed for a chat with the director while Ed conversed with Maureen. "How do you feel about swinging through the trees forty feet above the ground?"
"I was petrified at first, but now that I've been doing it for weeks, I'm getting used to it. And I have all the confidence in the world in Johnny."
"This movie is an amazing thing. I can't tell you how happy I am to see it become a reality. I haven't seen much, but I'm floored at how well suited you both are for it."
Johnny rushed back with the news that they were done, in fact done for the weekend.
Maureen smiled. "Finally, some needed time off!"
Burroughs looked the couple over and suggested:
"Why don't you two come out to the ranch for a little vacation? It's only an hour away."
Johnny and Maureen exchanged glances. "What do you think, Maureen?" Johnny asked.
"Sure, I mean, if you can accommodate us."
"Big place, lots of rooms. Well, are you ready to go?"
"Just need to change, sir. It will be an honor," Johnny replied.
Johnny and Maureen joined Ed in the parking lot, where he leaned against the convertible's fender smoking and chatting with the security guard.
"Ready to go, kids?" Ed entered the driver's side.
"Just a minute," Maureen said. She drew the guard away and had a whispered conversation. The guard nodded, Maureen smiled her thanks then entered the front passenger seat. Johnny closed her door and stepped onto the running board and then into the back seat.
"What was that about?" Johnny asked the actress.
"You know me. All silly and such. Just asked him to keep an eye on my dressing room."
"Need anything from your hotel rooms?" Burroughs asked, exiting the studio parking lot.
Maureen's purse was valise-sized. She patted it with a dazzling smile. "I come prepared."
Weissmueller grinned. "I'm good. I presume you have a bath tub..."
"And swimming pool, too!"
The conversation was pleasant, the afternoon sun edging toward the Pacific. An on shore breeze added to the car's motion. Maureen wrapped a scarf around her flying hair, Johnny ignored his, and Ed, rather spare of hair, jammed his battered fedora tight on his skull.
On Ventura, heading away from the studio, scattered street lights began coming on. The traffic thinned and speed limits increased. Just before full dark, Johnny leaned forward, his large hand gripping the back of Ed's seat.
"You might think me crazy, Mr. Burroughs, but every time I look back, I see a black sedan. I think we're being followed."
"Too many Jimmy Cagney movies will do that to you," Ed laughed. "You kids hungry? Nice cantina a few miles ahead. Food like you can never get in town."
Both were agreeable. The cantina, a short distance off the main road, was family run, had eight tables—four of which were empty this early in the evening.
"Mr. Ed!" a booming voice called as the trio entered. "So good to see you! Come, come! Sit! Rosita! Mr. Ed is here!"
Johnny held Maureen's chair then seated himself. "You must be a frequent guest..."
"Best Mexican in California. Just don't tell anyone because if it becomes famous the ambiance will be destroyed."
"Our little secret!" Maureen smiled.
The meal consisted of seafood appetizers, Enchiladas and Salsa, Beef and Chicken Quesadillas, Beans and Rice, and Apple Pie.
Pleasantly stuffed, sipping a red wine, Ed turned the air blue with a cigarette. "Always looking for an excuse to stop by. Well," he sighed, "ready to go?"
* * * * *
Once comfortably ensconced in the den, Ed offered Johnny a shot of scotch. "That'll put some hair on your chest," he said.
"Or make it fall off. I guess I'm more of a wine drinker, Mr. Burroughs."
"You'll be alright."
Johnny downed the drink, then threw back his head in reaction.
Ed swiftly interjected: "Oh, no, don't yell! You'll scare the house!"
Johnny grinned, and softly said, "Meow."
Ed and Johnny talked with some animation regarding the character of Tarzan, the film and—a half-hour later—Ed apologized to Maureen who was bravely trying not to nod off.
"Sorry," she yawned. "My day started at 4:30. Usually by this time I'm in pajamas and bed."
Ed looked at his pocket watch. "It is 8 pm. I'll bet you're frazzled. Come, I'll show you to your room."
"Oh, don't bother. Just point the way. I'll find it. Good night, all."
"She's a brick," Ed saluted with his glass.
"Very much," Weissmueller replied. "Never a complaint. So that's why these little thefts are so puzzling."
"Yes, she did mention something about that. What's the score, Johnny?"
"Just odd things. Nothing expensive or irreplaceable. It's just the thought of someone digging through your belongings behind your back—"
"Hm— That is strange. Well—"
The actor raised a hand in apology. "My day started at 3:30, sir. I need to come in for a landing, too."
"Of course! I've thoroughly enjoyed our chat. I'll show you to your room and turn in myself. That way we can get an early start in the morning. Lots to do and lots to see—"
* * * * *
A muffled scream snapped Ed's eyes open. From under his pillow a 1911 .45 filled his right fist. As fast as he moved, Burroughs lagged behind the large figure of Johnny Weissmueller dressed in his Tarzan loin cloth. Johnny forced the door to Maureen's room. A cool breeze blew through the window. Looking out, the men watched two tail lights disappear through the main gate. A ominous scribbled note was left on the bed:
Do Not Call The Police! You will receive a telephone call Saturday night at 6 pm. If you want to see Miss O'Sullivan alive again, you will follow my instructions!"
* * * * *
Ed Burroughs lay a hand on Johnny's shoulder as the "ape-man" was half out the window to give chase.
"Let's go after them, Mr. Burroughs!"
"Hold on, son. Something is very wrong with this—" Ed showed the note to the agitated actor.
"The scoundrels!" Weissmueller angrily muttered.
"Get dressed, son. Meet me downstairs as soon as you can."
Burroughs pulled on pants, socks, jammed his feet into a pair of work boots and buttoned up a plaid-flannel shirt. The .45 was snug against his belly and belt and was covered by the leather vest next donned. A Stetson, black, warmed his balding skull. Burroughs was not surprised to find Weissmueller already pacing the den floor in an anxious sweat.
Johnny glanced at the telephone on the author's desk. "We should call the police. Maureen is in danger!"
Ed shook his head. "I don't think she is."
"What? She was kidnapped!"
"True, but for kidnappers this fellow, or gang, is pretty inept."
"What do you mean?"
"No demand. No ransom demand. No terms of any kind. What kind of kidnapper pulls that kind of bone-head stunt? Think about it, boy. Something else is going on,. Think. Remember everything you can over the last few days, particularly those days when Maureen discovered something missing."
"I don't know anything—" Weissmueller paused, frustrated. He waved his hands with exasperation. "What could I have seen?"
Burroughs began a process of questioning that both calmed the big actor and got him to digging through his recent memories.
"Did Maureen have any interaction with others on the set, besides yourself, the director..."
"The cantina crew, but they're okay. You mean something out of the ordinary, perhaps not quite right. There was one—" Ed waited patiently. He could see Johnny replaying some images and words in his mind. "—didn't make sense. I guess that's why I remember."
"Remember what, son?"
"The lion tamer. Minor row about someone on set messing with his animals. Maureen heard him talking to the director about someone on set who was not part of the crew. The director was busy and brushed him off."
"Know who that fellow was?"
"No. I never saw or heard anything. Maureen just told me about it. That was about a week ago, about the same time Maureen started missing things."
Ed frowned, rubbing his chin, noting he was in need of a shave. "It isn't the lion tamer. I know him personally. Good man." Ed looked at the wall clock over the fireplace. Five A.M. "We've got thirteen hours to figure this out. What we need right now is a cup of coffee."
"Coffee? At a time like this?"
"Too early to call the tamer, son. Give him another thirty minutes sleep before I ruin his day."
* * * * *
At five-forty-five Ed's knuckles beat a tattoo on a ranch door not far from Tarzana. A moment later he rapped again, this time getting a sleepy "Hold your horses!" in response.
The door opened and whatever snide remark the man with rumpled hair might have said disappeared with a smile and a handshake. "Bit early, Ed."
"Sorry to wake you. We've got a bit of trouble and need your help."
"Is that you, Mr. Weissmueller? Sure, Ed! Come on in!"
* * * * *
A half hour later, having sworn the tamer to secrecy, Ed and Johnny stopped at a breakfast diner to mull over the info and make plans. The waitress approached, but before she neared the table, Burroughs held up his hand. Signaled One, pointed at himself, and Three, pointing at Johnny. She nodded and called out two orders to the cook in back and went to fill coffee mugs, which she delivered and then returned to the counter.
Ed sipped his coffee, scowled, and drank two quick mouthfuls. "Peel the paint off a barn!"
Johnny cradled the hot mug between large, strong hands. "What next, Mr. Burroughs?"
"First, stop calling me that. My name is 'Ed'. Okay?"
"Okay. We know the tamer did not see this fellow, it was Ron Gadden who reported it."
"We speak to Ron and see what he can remember. First," Ed leaned back as the waitress began unlimbering large plates which seemed suspended by magic on her sun-browned arms, "we eat."
* * * * *
After filling their stomachs and Ed's gas tank it was back to MGM Studios. Though the lot was generally closed for the weekend, the place was still quite busy when they arrived. The gate guard waved Ed's car through and the author parked next to the sound stage entrance. Both hopped out of the car, little interested in the customary pleasantries from a stage hand stacking wooden flats near the entrance.
"Do you know where I can find Ron Gadden?"
"Ask Brenda. She's dating him. She oughta know."
"Where do I find her?"
"Upstairs office. End of the catwalk. Straight ahead."
Johnny paused long enough to say "thanks", then hurried to catch up with Burroughs, who was already half-way up the metal stair welded to the sound stage wall.
The glass-walled office revealed an attractive young girl in slacks and blouse with her hair tied back by a bright colored scarf. Before Ed could knock she waved the duo in. "Hello, Mr. Weissmueller! Saturday? Thought you'd be at the beach or playing tennis..." Then her eyes grew round with an immediate shock. "Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs! I recognize you from newspaper pictures! I've read all of your books!"
Ed smiled deprecatingly. "Thanks. Sorry to be blunt, but we need to talk to Ron Gadden as soon as possible. Can you help us?"
"Why? I mean I'm not supposed to give out personal information."
"He's not in trouble, if that's what you think. But I do need to find Ron right now."
"Is something wrong?"
"No. His address, please."
Brenda frowned as she looked from one intent face to the other. Burroughs sensed her digging in her heels and started to speak. Johnny touched Ed's arm and smiled at the girl.
"Ron saw something that happened a week ago. We got that from the animal tamer. It might involve Miss O'Sullivan and... well, we're trying to help her and Ron is the only one who might help us. I promise you, Ron is not in trouble. Say, why don't you and Ron be my guests at the Tarzan premier? Red carpet and everything? That suit?"
It obviously did, but there was still a look of caution in Brenda's eyes. "Well— If you say it's okay—" The girl pulled a pencil from behind her ear, leaned over the desk and jotted down an address on a notepad. She tore the sheet off and held it. "He's not in trouble?"
"I give you my word," Johnny replied.
"Okay. Gosh!" she exclaimed when Weissmueller bent to kiss her cheek. The actor took the address and then had Ed by the elbow down the stairs as the girl reached up to touch her flushed cheek.
* * * * *
The address was in West Hollywood, about 45 minutes across town. The author and ape man sat silently in the convertible as Burroughs navigated the weekend traffic. At a three story apartment on a quiet street a knock on the door revealed Gadden wasn't home. They descended from the second floor and tried the manager's. The land lady confirmed they had the right place. She was a white-haired matron built like a stevedore and probably as capable.
"Ron's down on the wharf," she said. "Should be back in a half-hour. Want to wait?"
"Thank you, ma'am," Ed replied. "That's very kind of you."
Johnny understood Ed's glance: Leave the door open so they could see the entryway.
Both refused coffee when asked. "Haven't had mine yet," the land lady said. "Smoke if you got 'em. I surely will."
Johnny glanced at the clock next to the radio on the sideboard. To Ed he said:
The front door swung open. Gadden halted, surprised to see two men in the parlor ... and one of them Johnny Weissmueller! "Hello!" he smiled. "Never in a million years—"
Ed politely cut the young man off. "Shouldn't you get that on ice? We'll come with you. Johnny?"
"Right behind you."
Burroughs was not surprised the ice box was a real old-fashioned ice box with a real block of ice in the top. Gadden stowed his wax paper wrapped parcels, rinsed his hands at the sink, then called out:
"Going to the back yard, Mrs. Peabody!"
Gadden waited until the door was shut and they took positions under the shade of a large black walnut tree. "I get the idea you're not interested in others being around."
"So right," Burroughs said.
"Need your help," Johnny added.
"Whatever I can, Mr. Weissmueller. How?"
Johnny took up the explanations before Burroughs could draw breath. The actor kept it simple, leaving out Maureen's abduction for the moment.
"Yeah, I remember. This guy came out last week. Looking to get his animals hired for the movie. Very pushy. I told him we already had an animal wrangler and didn't need another one. He said 'These mangy beasts?' and picked up a rake and jabbed it into the lion's cage. 'Better stop that, Mister!' I told him. He acted like he didn't care. Pulled out a pack of Camels and lit up. Crazy man, he put the lighted match to the book of matches and threw it into the straw. Well, I had to stamp that out quick as anything and when I looked around to have him escorted off the set, he was gone."
"He tried to fire the set?" Johnny asked incredulously.
"Don't believe me? Here, look. I was going to give it to security but... Well, I kind of forgot."
Gadden produced a book of charred matches from his jacket pocket. Both Ed and Johnny turned it over in their hands, remarking the "Exotic Imports of Long Beach" printed on it.
"Good work, Sherlock!" said Ed.
"Seen him since? This fellow?"
Ron frowned. "One of those odd things, sir. There were a few times this week I thought I saw him, but when I looked a second time, no. What's he done?"
"We'll take care of it," Weissmueller said. "Can you think of anything else, Ron?"
"Well, he's about his height," Gadden pointed at Ed, "but he's built like you, only wider. Looked a rough customer to me. Oh, had a tattoo on the back of his right hand. Saw it clear when he lit up. A coiled snake of some kind. Reason I remember is it looked funny upside down when he lit the match."
"That's a big help," Burroughs said. "Well, thanks, Gadden. We've got to run."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Burroughs. Johnny, if I can be of any help, just call."
As they drove away from Gadden's apartment, Johnny asked:
"Well, what did we get? Where to next?"
Ed pulled onto the thoroughfare and gunned the motor towards downtown. "I'm thinking..."
* * * * *
Johnny looked a little confused when Ed parked at the entrance of a newspaper office. "Why here? Think it will lead to this Exotic Imports?"
Burroughs shook his head. "I want to look something up in their morgue."
"Old stories file. Seem to remember a report about a snake..."
Ed's reporter friend was out on assignment when they stopped by the managing editor's desk. Even so, the editor rose and exchanged a hearty grip with Burroughs. "Not often the competition stops by. How are you, Ed?"
"Doing a little research. Wonder if I can look through your morgue?"
The editor grinned. "Doing background for one of your stories?"
Both knew what kind of stories—
They were lead to a back office lined with file cabinets and full sheet storage shelves. The editor looked at his wrist watch. "Lunch. Won't be many around for the next hour. You okay?"
Ed chuckled. "Live and breath this stuff. Where's the reports from last year?"
A file cabinet near a frosted window at the back of the room was indicated. "Where are you having lunch? If I get through soon enough, maybe we can join you?" Ed asked.
An eatery known to both was named and the editor departed. Johnny, meanwhile, was having trouble keeping control of himself. "Nine-and-a-half hours, Ed. What are we doing here?"
Ed pulled out the top file drawer, pulled out a dozen folders, then placed them on a desk in the center of the room. He placed a hand on Johnny's brawny shoulder and sat him down while pointing to the files. He uttered a reporter's name and said. "Everything you can find by him. Crime reporter. One of his reports recently indicated a suspect with a snake tattooed on his hand."
"Oh!" Johnny needed no further invitation. He opened the top file and began rapidly flipping through the pages...
An hour later Ed found what he wanted. They policed the files, put them away, and left the newspaper office.
"Okay," Johnny said, "you got a name. Now what?"
"We go see if I still have any pull with the Mayor...
* * * * *
No, the mayor was not in. Yes, Mr. Burroughs was welcome. That might be hard to do but let me see...
The aide at the mayor's office made a phone call. From the length of the conversation and the increasingly strident tone, Burroughs extended his hand and asked:
The aide shrugged and handed over the telephone handset.
"Hello? So sorry to disturb you on Saturday ... this is Edgar Rice Burroughs. I— Yes, that Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was wondering if you could open the Records Office so I could... Why, that's mighty kind of you. Yes. I understand. We haven't had lunch yet. Oh? Okay, we'll meet you there. Thank you... yes, I really am that Edgar Rice Burroughs. See you in forty minutes."
Ed thanked the mayor's aide. Fifteen minutes later they entered an Airstream-styled diner across the street from the Records Office and took stations on two of the red upholstered spin stools. The air-conditioning was welcome.
"Ham on Rye, Cheese, and Fries. What will you have, Johnny?"
Resigned they were having lunch, the actor replied:
"Same, only double."
Burroughs said nothing more, puffing through two cigarettes before the meals were delivered. He asked for the coffee to be refilled then addressed his sandwich with gusto.
Weissmueller finished eating first and used a paper napkin to wipe his chin. "We have a name, why don't we go to the police?" he asked.
"Is it the right name?" Ed shook his head when the waitress with coffee pot in hand came by. "Just the check. Thank you, my dear."
Before Johnny could say anything else, the door opened and a bespectacled man in rumpled suit, slightly balding, entered with a paper wrapped bundle under his arm. As Burroughs and Weissmueller were rather conspicuous, he came over and asked:
"Are you Johnny Weissmueller?"
Ed made note of that question. It amused him.
Johnny courteously extended his hand. "I am. Are you the man from the Records Office?
Equally solemn, the man nodded and sat next to Burroughs. He placed the bundle on the Formica counter with a thud. "Just in case, I brought these." The paper was opened enough to reveal a stack of hard back books. "Wasn't sure it was a prank, you see."
"Want to see my driver's license?" Ed asked, reaching for his wallet.
"No, it is you. Would you mind?" He pulled out a fountain pen and offered the top book and the pen to Ed.
Ed autographed all four books and returned the pen. "Can we go to the Records Office now?"
Fifteen minutes later the man apologized. A search of the records had not turned up "Exotic Imports of Long Beach".
"Is this up to date? Could there be any new applications that haven't been processed?"
"I'll look. If it was anyone besides you, I'd tell you to take a hike. Gotta love those Barsoom stories!"
Johnny frowned as the clerk went to the back of the office. "Barsoom?"
"Damphool litrachor!" Ed laughed.
A few minutes later the clerk returned with a sheet of paper. "This what you're looking for?"
Ed read the name, the address, business classification... "On the button! Thank you very much!"
* * * * *
Johnny sat in the passenger seat of Ed's convertible winding through back roads, mostly unpaved, into the Angeles Forest north of Encino. It was a road with no signs but known to Ed as the route he wanted. He glanced at the sun, one hour above the horizon. Johnny had refrained from saying "One hour, Ed," but both were well aware of the time.
"Know where this place is?" Johnny asked as Ed competently steered the car through the hills almost forty miles above Encino.
"Of course I do. There's a piece of property up here," he slowed through a curve, still climbing the hillside. The slopes were covered with scrub brush and wind-shaped trees. "Thought about buying it a few years ago. Changed my mind.
"My books are full of coincidences. My critics remind me all the time of my utter reliance on coincidence. But I know exactly where we're going because I almost bought this property a few years ago. How's that for coincidence? Hey! Up on the right! See it?"
"Big cat!" Johnny exclaimed.
"Cougar. What passes for Numa around here." Ed slowed through an especially sharp s-curve and dropped the transmission into first to make the grade. "Getting close."
"Wouldn't want to wrestle with that," Johnny remarked.
"The cougar. Looked pretty mean."
"They are. Seems like every year somebody's losing sheep, dogs, even an occasional human being."
Ed slowed even more, creeping along. He doused the headlights which had been useful in the shadows cast by the hillsides. Finally he pulled half-off the roadway near a thick copse of pines. A dirt road ascending the hill lay fifty feet ahead. Ed gripped the steering wheel with both hands, taking a deep breath.
"This is it, Johnny." The actor sensed his companion was steeling himself and that made him instantly alert. "There's an adobe eight room house, two barns, a coral, out houses ... and an out house, too, up that drive. Most likely she'll be in one of the barns."
"Not the house?" Johnny asked. Ed's demeanor had infected him.
"Don't think so. Could be wrong, but easy enough for us to check. You make it through there without making any noise?"
"I'm a farmer's son," Johnny bravely smiled. "What do you think?"
"Okay." Ed got out of the car and very gently, quietly, closed the door. Johnny followed suit. Burroughs drew the .45 and nodded to the actor. "I'll back you up."
"Fine," Johnny said. "Just a minute..."
To Ed's surprise, Weissmueller stripped off his outer clothes and stood imposingly muscled, dressed in the Tarzan loin cloth. At his side was the wooden knife wardrobe had given him.
"Might have to pry something open," Johnny replied. "Quieter this way. Stay low."
* * * * *
Johnny stalked through the nearest dimly lit barn choked with partially dismantled automobiles, perhaps stolen. Outside Ed watched the barn and the rest of the property as the shadows lengthened toward full night.
Weissmueller exited the barn. Without a word he shook his head negatively then ignored Ed as he disappeared through the underbrush toward the second barn.
A moment later Weissmueller was inside and saw scores of exotic wild animals captive inside cramped cages. All the creatures were thin and starving. The situation made Johnny all the more angry. A quick search found more animals to the rear, but no sign of Maureen. Chillingly, he located a cot, some ropes, and discarded take out food containers. That tableau frightened him.
Breathlessly, Weissmueller joined Burroughs in the lee of a pine. "She's not there. But I saw where she might have been tied up."
Ed scowled. "Guess I was half-right. She's got to be in the house now." The sun was nearly down and a phone call was about to be made. "Okay, son. Off we go!"
The ranch house windows were open to let the breeze waft through. Ed and Johnny bent low at each window, taking quick looks in each room they passed. As they neared the front an angry man's voice was heard.
"...what do you mean he's not there? I told him to be there at six! Where is he?" A pause. "Don't lie to me! You won't like what happens!" A clatter that sounded like a telephone receiver angrily slammed into a base set followed. The voice continued:
"Seems like Burroughs and Weissmueller don't care what happens to you."
"Stay away!" a girl's voice imperiously admonished. "They will take you apart!"
"I doubt it!"
There was the sound of an evil laugh and a slap and a tortured gasp.
Burroughs made no attempt to stop Johnny from going through the window headfirst. A savage cry was uttered which iced the spine, another voice, startled, shouted "What? Who?" and by that time Ed was through the window, gun in hand.
On the right a second man reached for a rifle on a table as Weissmueller shook the tattooed man by the throat, lifting him off the floor. Burroughs fired a warning shot that splintered the table top next to the rifle. "Don't try it!"
Behind Ed furniture was overturned, broken. Maureen cried: "Johnny!" Burroughs removed the rifle's temptation as he waved for the other man to get on his knees. Ed moved sideways enough to watch his captive and chance a glance toward Weissmueller. He almost wished he had not looked.
Johnny's fists had bloodied the kidnapper terribly. The blows kept coming and might have continued if Maureen had not grasped the actor's upraised fist. "You'll kill him!"
"That's the idea—" Johnny growled. Disgusted, the actor dropped the weeping, mewling pulp to the floor. He put a protective arm around Maureen and said to Ed:
"Now we call the police?"
* * * * *
Lieutenant Flarety stood to one side as a couple of uniformed officers marched the cuffed kidnappers to one of the black and white cruisers.
"Cute trick shoving them in a cage until we got here. What's up, Ed? Tired of writing about crime for the papers and decided to get involved yourself?"
"Look, Michael," Ed began, "you know me. Pussycat."
Both men moved aside as several local sheriff deputies passed into the barn to begin cataloging the caged animals. Meanwhile, a nearby rancher had appeared with a few hands to feed and water the poor creatures. L.A. cops were going through the second barn and a few had remarked on "Solved!" "Found it!" "So now we know—"
Ed Burroughs crossed his arms and watched the activty. "Thought of you on that car theft idea... Don't mind do you?" He continued rapidly, not giving Flarety a chance to respond. "Those two kids out there—" he nodded toward Johnny and Maureen watching the arrest and investigation, "—they don't need any publicity. Can you keep them out of it?"
Flarety rubbed his chin then pulled the fat cigar out of his mouth. "Working on that film of yours, eh?" Flarety chuckled. "Him Tarzan, She Jane and he saved her? You can't buy that kind of publicity! Ed!"
"Really, Mike," Burroughs pleaded. "Do this as a favor. Leave them out. Bad enough they had to go through it, but to have the newspapers and radio, too? Would make their lives miserable."
At that moment Maureen turned and desperately clung to Johnny, quietly weeping. Weissmueller, awkwardly embarrassed, stroked her hair while looking concerned.
Flarety sighed. "Yeah, I see your point. Well, I got enough on these fellows for exotic animals, abuse of animals, possible car theft, discharging a firearm with intent—"
Ed looked as innocent as possible. Flarety smiled.
"—resisting arrest... Somehow I have to explain all those bumps and bruises..." The lieutenant paused, scowled, looked at the two actors and softened just a bit. "You owe me."
"Barbecue at the ranch. You, your boys, wives and girl friends," was immediately offered.
"And all the beer we can drink?"
"Have a heart, Mike! Can we say two kegs?"
The lieutenant and author shook hands.
* * * * *
Sunday morning, Tarzana Ranch. Breakfast on the cool veranda.
"Emma's sleeping in this morning," Ed made no other explantion as he offered more coffee. "I'll bet you two will be glad to get back on the set."
Johnny grinned. "Do something for us, Ed?"
Maureen reached across the table and gripped Burroughs' grizzled hand.
"Don't invite us back!"
* * * * *
David Allen Smith