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I. DEATH AT DISCOVERY RANCH


Chapter 3

The pair of mannequins hustled the four offstage before the end of the break. Underlings thanked them, wished them luck, and bundled them outside in no time. So Clan MacLantis found themselves standing alone in the TV station’s parking lot on a warm afternoon.

“I’m not sure what I expected, but that wasn’t it,” Gus said, loosening his tie. “I feel used. Skip, I thought you were bringing the best stuff, not outtakes!”

“I did, buddy, just what Dad wanted.”

“Best not get upset by it, Gus,” Doc said, clapping his second eldest on the shoulder. “Television is a ravenous child; sees everything, forgets nothing, and occasionally throws up all over you. I thought we did pretty well, considering.”

“Considering what, Dad?” Allie asked. “I thought it was fine by any standards.”

Doc sighed, deflating from action hero to a tired old man.

“Considering it’s been decades since we did any of these shows. I was prepared for them bushwhacking us with those old clips, but why do they always use the same damn music from that stupid grave-robber movie?”

Startled, the three siblings exchanged smiles at the rare profanity.

“It wasn’t so bad, was it?” Allie took her father’s arm. “The bell looked good and the surprise worked great – the guys never saw it coming. As for Gus destroying the set, he couldn’t have done it better if he tried.”

“I learned from the master, sis,” Gus said, sounding glum. “Speaking of which, why did you throw the shadow business at us, anyway, Dad? It was funny, but it ruined the scene.”

“No offense, Augustine, but you were starting to lecture. Now, I’m not blaming you, son – you’re a teacher. But I was ready, just in case.”

Gus stuffed his hands into his pockets, kicking the pavement. “Thanks for your confidence, Dad.”

“Don’t sulk, son. This is show biz, not science. Never forget the difference,” Doc said, but his face softened. “I’m sorry, but I found the hard way many years ago you can’t teach a thing if you don’t hold their attention. I just wish there were more bats. It would have been terrific. Anyway, we can fix it all in editing. Good job, anyway, kids, especially you, Gus.”

“I’m just glad it wasn’t an actual site,” Gus said.

Doc looked away. “It wasn’t a set?” Gus gulped. “It was real? Oh my God.”

“Oh, we added the fake slabs, rocks, and bell, and of course, the balloon boulder.” Doc’s smile was a bit sheepish. “But not those pictographs. I must’ve found that cave back before you were born. Always meant to investigate it in depth; never found a chance.”

Gus was speechless, unable to reply. “So that’s why you and Mom never bothered with permits!” Allie laughed. “It suddenly makes sense now.”

“Now, children, don’t be cynical. Often it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. And better not to be caught, as you know. Stop frowning, I took lots of pictures and measurements. We didn’t destroy the site, Gus. I’m sure it can be restored.”

“Wait a minute, Dad; you mean, there might be a real, live monster snake down there?” Skip sounded almost as aghast as Gus. He looked for confirmation at Allie, whose green eyes grew big behind her frames, but she laughed anyway.

“Possibly; the remains looked recent,” their father said with an optimistic grin. “I admit I hoped the beastie might stick out its head. Would’ve made for great footage. Maybe we should give it another shot.”

The silence stretched a bit as his offspring exchanged worried looks. “Maybe the problem is the guys are grown now, Dad,” Allie said after a pause. “Bits which would’ve worked great when they were little seem kind of childish now.”

“Could be, I suppose.” Doc leaned on his cane, looking old but still defying frailty. “Kids, I do appreciate all you’ve done. You’ve been patient and supportive of an old man’s dream. I couldn’t ask for more. Maybe we should quit while we’re ahead.

“I’m just so damned tired of the criticism which follows me whatever I do. And now there’s yet another, even more viscous attack by that pompous old windbag, Fatamorgana. I know I brought it on myself long ago, but it’s unfair to you. I’ve been working on my memoirs in secret for some time because I need to settle things before I go, especially with Ray. I’ll shut him up and show the rest of them, once and for all,” he promised.

“I regret this comes as a bit of a surprise,” Doc admitted. “My dears, I did everything I could, though not as well as I hoped, to keep you safe, far away from Bellegraal and the Holy Tub business. You’re adults now, and it’s time I stop running away from my past. But I’m taking time to do it as it should be done. There must not be any missteps.”

“Just let us know what you want from us,” Skip said. “You’ve always taught us to make our own choices, Dad. We can’t fault you for doing the same.”

Allie gave her father’s hand a squeeze. “Let us help; you don’t have to do it all alone.”

“Don’t worry about us, Dad,” Gus agreed. “We won’t run out of things to wreck here.”

“It’s not so easy, children.” Doc smile was wan. “You don’t choose the great mysteries, they choose you: and once they find you, they never let go. Fatal mirage or not; the Maundy Grail beckons still. Sixty years ago it summoned me and I still cannot escape its siren call.”

The old man sighed. “I’m beat and we still have the big party tonight. Let’s go home.”

 


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“Scholars whose sole experiences of strata are crooked piles of books can hardly appreciate the judicious use of properly trained clairvoyants and dynamite in fieldwork.”

Doc MacLantis,
Journal of Expeditionary Archeology,
Fall 1958

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