Night Shooting

Rob McClure Smith

1.30 a.m. and the Spanish soldiers, muskets and rapiers discarded and left tagged and labeled on a tarp, queued up by the commissary in fresh-laundered blue and yellow uniforms, looking sleepy and not remotely of Mediterranean provenance. Under the sapadilloes, half-naked Kuna, daubed jet-black for war, forked empanadas from paper plates. The Scots knocked back seco con lecho under a bank of arc lights illuminating the imperial blue and gold on top of the stockade. The salsa of Rómulo Castro rattled from a radio, and a toucan shrieked accompaniment while a long green insect with white-tipped antennae ambled across the dial. The attackers still hadn’t attacked and it was spitting rain. PA’s jabbered into microphone headsets: coffee out, soldiers plastered, director incommunicado.

The Toubacanti stockade was originally built on the southern descent of a hill near the river Acla. It was star-shaped, with redoubts and bastions. But undermanned, the defenders were unprepared for a surprise attack. The battle of Toubacanti was brief. The Scottish axe-men slashed through the palisade, their Indian allies broke through on the flanks. The Spanish fled across the Isthmus.

The rebuilt stockade faced the jungle. It was damp among the biting sand flies, and the best boy already had a concussion from a coconut thrown by an irate monkey.

*     *     *

Jasper Lillee lay flat on his belly midway between the trees and the stockade, examining the tracks. The grips laid a new set, stepping over him. The old tracks were embedded in the mud. The DP looked up at Rich from his recumbent pose. He had smears of dirt down his cheeks and looked badgerish.

“Why are you lying in the mud, Jasper?”

“Using these bastards is a fucking nightmare in the jungle, mate. They either sink in the muck or stand out like a greyhound’s balls.”

*     *     *

A small crowd had gathered by the commissary to watch Sir Terence Duffy berate a girl from costume. The controversy involved him not fitting into his uniform. Duffy waggled his fist near the girl’s face.

“Well, all I’m saying to you, lassie, is it fit me perfectly in Los Angeles and now it does not. This costume has been somehow altered in weeks succeeding.”

Duffy indicated an open row of brass buttons upon his famously hirsute chest. On his bare right arm a tattoo: ‘Scots Wha’hae.’

“But it hasn’t been altered,” the girl said. She fingered a button, ventured upon the unspeakable. “Is it possible you’ve put on weight, sir?”

“No, it is not remotely possible,” Duffy roared. “I perform martial arts routines twice a day. Kyokushin karate. I hold an honorary shodan. As you no doubt see, I have the torso of a man a third my age.”

Duffy pummeled the torso of a man a third his age.

“But the buttons won’t snap...”

“Listen here, woman, try to pay attention, will you? What has happened is the extreme tropical heat has shrunken the fabric in some unaccountable way.” Duffy pinched the material to demonstrate shrinkage, inhaling deeply as the girl wrestled with the buttons. “Such an occurrence would not be unusual,” he added, breathlessly.

Duffy turned salmon-pink as the girl tugged and hauled at him.

“Yes it would,” she said, giving up.

The other actors studiously avoided eye contact.

“All the rest are the same,” said the girl. “This is the only one that’s shrunk...”

“And where,” Duffy bellowed, changing the subject,“ is the leader of this enterprise? Are we awaiting white smoke to rise from yonder tent like the Vatican?”

Rich supposed Duffy had been at the secho con lecho during the break.

“There is a widening gap today between those who know about films and those who greenlight films,” Duffy declaimed. “The one thing you can’t say now is ‘I don’t know.’ Hitch would say ‘I don’t know’ all the time. ‘What do you see in this Tippie woman,’ I’d say. ‘I don’t know,’ says Hitch, ‘but have you seen the tits on her, Terence?’" Duffy nodded. “But today the person on set you think is the tea-boy is the director.”

It took the crew four hours to light the jungle around the stockade. Getting the rig up in the trees proved difficult. The gaffer was trying to shoot a microphone-supporting rope through the overhang of branches using a bow and arrow.

“Why don’t they let the Indians do that?” Duffy queried. “They are the experts with that apparatus.”

“Wrong kind of Indians,” Rich contributed. “You’re thinking of the Native Americans of...”

“Don’t tell me what I’m thinking of, suit,” Duffy snorted. “You can have not the slightest conception of what I’m thinking of.”

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