A Man of the Mountain - The Greatest Showman
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6. The Greatest Showman
“The small town of Clearwater, destination for local hikers and home of the famous Clearwater Falls, is under attack.” Rick Mansen strode over to prop himself up against a small wood structure with maps of the mountain’s hiking trails framed on it. “Ten deaths in the last five years, all explained away as ‘bear attacks’.” He cocked an eyebrow at the camera, sharing a ‘we know better’ moment with the viewers at home.
A man sitting behind a mounted camera gave him a thumbs up. He pointed to another operator and held up two fingers.
In an almost Pavlovian response, Mansen turned to camera two and smiled broadly. “Gigantopithicus, or Bigfoot as most of us know it, has long been rumored to be in the area. It would seem from the missing hikers that he’s been quite troublesome.”
A man in a cheap suit with a ballcap labeled Director held up a white sign that read: PAUSE FOR LAUGHS.
Mansen took a deep breath as if composing himself and made a sweeping gesture toward the map behind him. There was a loud clunk as Rick smacked his hand into it. “God damnit!” he shouted shaking his hand to get the pain out. “Fucking campgrounds.” Mansen’s face had grown red. “Are we twelve? Do people even fucking camp anymore?!”
The cast and crew remained silent.
“Still rolling,” said the director. It wasn’t the first time Mansen broke script to bitch and it wouldn’t be the last.
Mansen slapped himself in the face lightly and turned back to the camera, rage instantly fading, at least on the surface. “Over the following week, we’re going to be tracking the Beast of Clearwater Mountain, and when we find it…” He trailed off, letting the implication set in. “Let’s just say the citizens of Clearwater can rest easy, because Mansen’s Mysteries is on the case. Be sure to tune in 8PM this Sunday as we begin our search.” Mansen looked intimately into the camera and held what he hoped would be the audience’s gaze.
“Aaannnd cut,” said the director with heavy relief. “Great stuff Rick, real magic.”
Rick’s plastic smile melted away faster than spring snow. “Remind me to fire the intern that answered a letter from this god damned backwater.” Rick stormed off to a set of trailers that had been double parked in the Forestry Service’s visitor spaces.
“Backwaters make for good ratings,” called the director after him. He had worked with Mansen for years and as a result was an expert in the art of placation.
Mansen slammed the door to his trailer so hard that the plastic plaque bearing his name went tumbling into the dirt.
“Primadonna,” muttered the director. “Alright everyone, that’s lunch. Try not to get food poisoning at the local trough.”
The various cast and crew shuffled away, questioning their career choices. Meanwhile, Mansen fumed in his trailer about the two weeks he would be spending in Clearwater. It was a short shoot by all standards, but god forbid if it actually got ratings; they might have to extend their stay. He let out a melodramatic sigh and sat down in a chair in front of a well-lit mirror.
In the reflection, he could see the cases and frames that had been bolted to nearly every wall. Many had said it was structurally unsafe, but looking at all the television awards, as well as his degree, brought him a sense of purpose. “Rick Mansen, Doctorate in Cryptozoology, Harvard,” he murmured, in awe of himself, ignoring the exclamation point after Harvard. Next to the degree and above his sink was a perfectly polished People’s Choice award next to an empty Emmy case he pretended not to notice. Even slumming the backwaters of North America was worth it if there was a chance to add to his collection.
He remained there for a full minute, completely absorbed in himself and unaware of the fact that he was not alone. Sitting in a chair that folded out of the back wall, below a printout of Mansen’s Mysteries 2004 ratings, was Shirley. She held a stack of papers that had been loosely bound together by a series of thick rubber bands and what appeared to be a man’s belt. She coughed in a meek gesture of politeness.
Rick jumped so high that he nearly hit the ceiling and sent a cup full of combs crashing to the floor. “Jesus Christ! Who are you? What do you want from me?” Mansen backed away slowly as if dealing with a wild animal. “We have an autograph session set for Thursday, can it not wait?” His eyes darted to the trailer door and he inched towards it.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” stammered Shirley, standing from her chair and inadvertently blocking the exit.
“Look.” Mansen pulled a sharpie from his jacket pocket and held it pointed like a lance. “I’ll sign it, just please, don’t do anything rash.” He uncapped the pen, reached out a shaking hand and scribbled a signature on the outside of a trail report in Shirley’s stack.
“Oh no,” she started, “I’m not a fan. I’m Shirley Codwell, the one who wrote the letter.”
Mansen stood there, heart still pounding, trying to think if that was a name he should have remembered. “The letter?” he managed eventually.
“Yes, about the attacks on the mountain.”
“Ah.” The fear left him and was replaced by the same petulant rage that had filled him earlier. “Well, Ms. Codwell, who exactly was it that let you in here?” No longer threatened, Mansen had returned to overwhelming bravado with his chest puffed out in a cartoonish display of superiority.
“I’m so sorry.” Shirley’s face had grown bright red. She had expected things to go much differently. “It was one of your production assistants. He said you would want to see these files yourself.” She held up the stack of papers that now bore Mansen’s signature. They had taken her a full week to organize and repair. Some were still stained with gin and god-knows-what from late night ‘research’ sessions, but they looked far better than they had scattered across her office floor.
“Yes…” Mansen eyed the stack of papers with more contempt than embarrassment. “Give them here then.” He snatched the dossier from her hand and walked over to a radio mounted to the far wall. “Herb, fire whoever let Ms. Codwell into my trailer, and send in their replacement. I’ve got some research for them to look at.”
Shirley tried unsuccessfully to hide her disappointment. All her work would be tossed aside for an intern. Struggling, she started again. “Thank you so much for coming Mr. Mansen. It means a lot that someone is finally going to take these attacks serious—”
Rick had picked up a mobile phone and begun talking. “Hi Hilary, it’s Rick. Yeah, I’m in town for a few days shooting a special. Want to meet up for drinks?” Rick glanced over at Shirley and nearly jumped again, surprised she was still there. He pointed to the dossier, gave her a thumbs up, and then made a shooing motion toward the door.
Shirley felt rage bubbling up from inside but kept it down, thinking that any coverage was better than no coverage. She left the trailer, hoping that somehow, despite appearances, Mansen’s presence would help.
Mansen continued his call barely aware that Shirley had left and already forgetting she had been there in the first place. “Oh no, we’re not actually going to go up the mountain. That’s not how it works. We’ll just shoot a few promos around the base, do a little light hiking, and record some scary noises at night. It’ll remain a mystery and if viewers like it, we’ll come back next season.”