'It means the desert bandits ride in single file, though,' said the youth. 'It's not like, you know, a massed attack.'
'Sure, sure,' said Dibbler dismissively. 'Makes sense. We just put a card up where the leader says, he says-' He thought for a second. 'He says, “Follow me in single file, bwanas, to fool the hated enemy,” OK?'
He nodded at Victor. 'Have you met my nephew Soll?' he said. 'Keen lad. Been nearly to school and everything. Brought him out here yesterday. He's Vice-President in Charge of Making Pictures.'
Soll and Victor exchanged nods.
'I don't think “bwanas” is the right word, Uncle,' said Soll.
'It's Klatchian, isn't it?' said Dibbler.
'Well, technically, but I think it's the wrong part of Klatch and maybe “effendies” or something-'
'Just so long as it's foreign,' said Dibbler with an air that suggested the matter was settled. He patted Victor on the back again. 'OK, kid, get into costume.' He chuckled. 'A hundred camels! What a mind!'
'Excuse me, Mr Dibbler,' said the poster artist, who had been hovering uneasily, 'I don't understand this bit here . . . '
Dibbler snatched the paper from him.
'Which bit?' he snapped. 'Where you're describing Miss De Syn-'
'It's obvious,' said Dibbler. 'What we want here is to conjure up the exotic, alluring yet distant romance of pyramid-studded Klatch, right, so nat'r'ly we gotta use the symbol of a mysterious and unscrutable continent, see? Do I have to explain everything to everyone all the time?'
'It's just that I thought-' the artist began.
'Just do it!'
The artist looked down at the paper. ' “She has the face”,' he read, ' “of a Spink.” '
'Right,' said Dibbler. 'Right!'
'I thought maybe Sphinx-'
'Will you listen to the man?' said Dibbler, talking to the sky again. He glared at the artist. 'She doesn't look like two of them, does she? One Spink, two Spinks. Now get on with it. I want those posters all round the city first thing tomorrow.'
The artist gave Victor an agonized look he was coming to recognize. Everyone around Dibbler wore them after a while.
'Right you are, Mr Dibbler,' he said.
'Right.' Dibbler turned to Victor.
'Why aren't you changed?' he said.
Victor ducked quickly into a tent. A little old lady shaped like a cottage loaf helped him into a costume apparently made of sheets inexpertly dyed black, although given the current state of accommodation in Holy Wood they were probably just sheets taken off a bed at random. Then she handed him a curved sword.
'Why's it bent?' he asked.
'I think it's meant to be, dear,' she said doubtfully.
'I thought swords had to be straight,' said Victor. Outside, he could hear Dibbler asking the sky why everyone was so stupid.
'Perhaps they start out straight and go bendy with use,' said the old lady, patting him on the hand. 'A lot of things do.'
She gave him a bright smile. 'If you're all right, dear, I'd better go and help the young lady, in case any little dwarfs is peering in at her.'
She waddled out of the tent. From the tent next door came a metallic chinking noise and the sound of Ginger's voice raised in complaint.
Victor made a few experimental slashes with the sword.
Gaspode watched him with his head on one side.
'What're you supposed to be?' he said at last.
'A leader of a pack of desert bandits, apparently,' said Victor. 'Romantic and dashing.'
'Just dashing generally, I guess. Gaspode, what did you mean when you said it's got Dibbler?'
The dog gnawed at a paw.
'Look at his eyes,' he said. 'They're even worse than yours.'
'Mine? What's wrong with mine?'
Detritus the troll stuck his head through the tent flaps. 'Mr Dibbler says he wants you now,' he said.
'Eyes?' said Victor. 'Something about my eyes?'
'Mr Dibbler says-' Detritus began.
'All right, all right! I'm coming!'
Victor stepped out of his tent at the same time as Ginger stepped out of hers. He shut his eyes.
'Gosh, I'm sorry,' he babbled. 'I'll go back and wait for you to get dressed . . . '
'I am dressed.'
'Mr Dibbler says-' said Detritus, behind them.
'Come on,' said Ginger, grabbing his arm. 'We mustn't keep everyone waiting.'
'But you're . . . your . . . ' Victor looked down, which wasn't a help. 'You've got a navel in your diamond,' he hazarded.
'I've come to terms with that,' said Ginger, flexing her shoulders in an effort to make everything settle. 'It's these two saucepan lids that are giving me problems. Makes you realize what those poor girls in the harems must suffer.'
'And you don't mind people seeing you like that?' said Victor, amazed.
'Why should I? This is moving pictures. It's not as if it's real. Anyway, you'd be amazed at what girls have to do for a lot less than ten dollars a day.'
'Nine,' said Gaspode, who was still trailing at Victor's heels.
'Right, gather round, people,' shouted Dibbler through a
megaphone. 'Sons of the Desert over there, please. The slave
girls - where are the slave girls? Right. Handlemen?-'
'I've never seen so many people in a click,' Ginger whispered. 'It must be costing more than a hundred dollars!'
Victor eyed the Sons of the Desert. It looked as though Dibbler had dropped in at Borgle's and hired the twenty people nearest the door, irrespective of their appropriateness, and had given them each Dibbler's idea of a desert bandit headdress. There were trollish Sons of the Desert Rock recognized him, and gave him a little wave - dwarf Sons of the Desert and, shuffling into the end of the line, a small, hairy and furiously-scratching Son in a headdress that reached down to his paws.
' . . . grab her, become entranced by her beauty, and then throw her over your pommel.' Dibbler's voice intruded into his consciousness.
Victor desperately re-ran the half-heard instructions past his mind.
'My what?' he said.
'It's part of your saddle,' Ginger hissed.
'And then you ride into the night, with all the Sons following you and singing rousing desert bandit songs-'
'No-one'll hear them,' said Soll helpfully. 'But if they open and shut their mouths it'll help create a, you know, amby-ance.'
'But it isn't night,' said Ginger. 'It's broad daylight.'
Dibbler stared at her.
His mouth opened once or twice.
'Soll!' he shouted.
'We can't film at night, Uncle,' said the nephew hurriedly. 'The demons wouldn't be able to see. I don't see why we can't put up a card saying “Night-time” at the start of the scene, so that-'
'That's not the magic of moving pictures!' snapped Dibbler. 'That's just messing about!'
'Excuse me,' said Victor. 'Excuse me, but surely it doesn't matter, because surely the demons can paint the sky black with stars on it?'
There was a moment's silence. Then Dibbler looked- at Gaffer.
'Can they?' he said.
'Nah,' said the handleman. 'It's bloody. hard enough to make sure they paint what they do see, never mind what they don't.'
Dibbler rubbed his nose.
'I might be prepared to negotiate,' he said.
The handleman shrugged. 'You don't understand, Mr Dibbler. What'd they want money for? They'd only eat it. We start telling them to paint what isn't there, we're into all sorts of-'
'Perhaps it's just a very bright full moon?' said Ginger.
'That's good thinking,' said Dibbler. 'We'll do a card where Victor says to Ginger something like: “How bright the moon is tonight, bwana”.'
'Something like that,' said Soll diplomatically.
It was noon. Holy Wood Hill glistened under the sun, like a champagne-flavoured wine gum that had been half-sucked. The handlemen turned their handles, the extras charged enthusiastically backwards and forwards, Dibbler raged at everyone, and cinematographic history was made with a shot of three dwarfs, four men, two trolls and a dog all riding one camel and screaming in terror for it to stop.
Victor was introduced to the camel. It blinked its long eyelashes at him and appeared to chew soap. It was kneeling down and it looked like a camel that had had a long morning and wasn't about to take any shit from anyone. So far it had kicked three people.
'What's it called?' he said cautiously.
'We call it Evil-Minded Son of a Bitch,' said the newly-appointed Vice-President in Charge of Camels.
'That doesn't sound like a name.'
' 'S a good name for this camel,' said the handler fervently.
'There's nothin' wrong with bein' a son of a bitch,' said a voice behind him. 'I'm a son of a bitch. My father was a son of a bitch, you greasy nightshirt-wearin' bastard.'
The handler grinned nervously at Victor and turned around. There was no-one behind him. He looked down.
'Woof,' said Gaspode, and wagged what was almost a tail.
'Did you just hear someone say something?' said the handler carefully.
'No,' said Victor. He leaned close to one of the camel's ears and whispered, in case it was a special Holy Wood camel: 'Look, I'm a friend, OK?'
Evil-Minded Son of a Bitch flicked a carpet-thick ear.
'How do you ride it?' he said.
'When you want to go forward you swear at it and hit it with a stick, and when you want to stop you swear at it and really hit it with a stick.'
'What happens if you want it to turn?'
'Ah, well, you're on to the Advanced Manual there. Best thing to do is get off and do it round by hand.'
'When you're ready!' Dibbler bellowed through his megaphone. 'Now, you ride up to the tent, leap off the camel, fight the huge eunuchs, burst into the tent, drag the girl out, get back on the camel and away. Got it? Think you ran do that?'
'What huge eunuchs?' said Victor, as the camel unfolded itself upwards.
One of the huge eunuchs shyly raised a hand.
'It's me. Morry,' it said.
'Oh. Hi, Morry.'
'And me, Rock,' said a second huge eunuch.
'Places, everyone,' said Dibbler. 'We'll - what is it, Rock?'
'Er, I was just wondering, Mr Dibbler . . . what is my motivation for this scene?'
'Yes. Er. I got to know, see,' said Rock.
'How about: I'll fire you if you don't do it properly?'
Rock grinned. 'Right you are, Mr Dibbler,' he said.
'OK,' said Dibbler. 'Everyone ready . . . turn 'em!'
Evil-minded Son of a Bitch turned awkwardly, legs flailing at odd camel angles, and then lumbered into a complicated trot. The handle turned . . .
The air glittered.
And Victor awoke. It was like rising slowly out of a pink cloud, or a magnificent dream which, try as you might, drains out of your mind as the daylight shuffles in, leaving a terrible sense of loss; nothing, you know instinctively, nothing you're going to experience for the rest of the day is going to be one half as good as that dream.
He blinked. The images faded away. He was aware of
an ache in his muscles, as if he'd recently been really exerting himself.
'What happened?' he mumbled.
He looked down.
'Wow,' he said. An expanse of barely-clad buttock occupied a view recently occupied by the camel's neck. It was an improvement.
'Why', said Ginger icily, 'am I lying on a camel?'
'Search me. Didn't you want to?'
She slid down on to the sand and tried to adjust her costume.
At this point they both became aware of the audience.
There was Dibbler. There was Dibbler's nephew. There was the handleman. There were the extras. There were the assorted vicepresidents and other people who are apparently called into existence by the mere presence of moving-picture creation. There was Gaspode the Wonder Dog.