Title: Strange Bedfellows.
Warnings: Some Ann angst, mild verbal and physical abuse towards Carl, some Carl angst, a little mild cursing. Nothing you can't cope with.
Summary: Some say that love and hate are intertwined emotions. What happens when you are in so much agony you'll accept compassion even from the person you hate the most? And what happens when a chink forms in a man's devil-take-the-hindmost attitude.
Disclaimer: I don't own a solitary thing. Universal does.
There are few sensations in life more psychologically satisfying than waking up from a nightmare, when one realizes that the terror was just an evil trick of the mind, and the sleeper is back in the familiar, comforting reality they know by day. This feeling of relief is even more pronounced in the person who has undergone a living nightmare, although the recovery process is so much painfully slower.
Carl Denham knew all about this species of relief. He’d torn, panted, schemed, fought, and despaired through two living nightmares on Skull Island; one being the very real chance that he would die an exotically gruesome death that no white man had ever endured, the second being that he’d return totally empty-handed, with nothing to appease his snarling, incensed investors back home, absolutely nothing to show for all the death and carnage and loss.
But he’d triumphed over both, against the odds and even his wildest hopes. Despite what the paranoids and pessimists said, there truly was an advantage or two to not knowing what you were getting into. It made the surprises that much sweeter. And oh, what he’d captured there was sugar to his spirits indeed. Carl smiled like a sated wolf at the thought, knowing that a gargantuan, black-furred pile of money was sleeping in a chloroform coma below his feet.
Carl’s name, Ann’s name, Jack’s name, Englehorn’s name, Baxter’s name, Jimmy’s name-all the survivors would and could go down in entertainment and zoological history, written in light bulbs above Broadway as they suddenly had the freedom to write out as many checks and spend as much cash from the profits as they pleased. But the operative, and terribly perplexing, word was could.
Englehorn, who had the most to gain by this, and had even assisted in the ape’s capture, had accepted only enough cash to pay for the repairs to the steamer, which had limped away from the island like a muskrat winged by shotgun pellets while swimming. When Carl had eagerly tried to convince the captain that he didn’t have to use the producer’s imminent wealth just for utilitarian purposes, the German had told him, “I’m not interested in money paid for with the blood of my crewmen,” and threatened to keep both the beasts on this steamer shackled and drugged together in the hold.
Of all the people he’d deceived as a means to an end, Carl felt the worst about Jack. If anyone deserved and needed the money and honor that came with such an amazing coup, it was his playwright friend. After the ape’s capture, Carl had let Jack sleep for at least a dozen hours, then bathe, then eat, then sleep several hours more before making the offer. The past two days had been plenty horrible and stressful enough for everybody, Jack most of all. And Carl knew his friend well enough to know that he rarely made such a big decision unless Jack was alert and in the right frame of mind.
It had been a painful shock in more ways than one, when Jack had woken for the second time, fixed his pal’s eyes with his glittering green ones-and they’d darkened. Carl understood very well from bitter experience that that was the exact type of look a man gives another person before declaring war, the little frightening silence right before he completely loses control and comes out swinging. “Either run or be on your guard, you selfish son of a bitch,” Jack had said grimly.
But by then it was too late to flee. Now Carl knew how the savages his pal had punched out felt as the tanned fists hit their jaws. A complete wonder, he thought, that his teeth hadn’t been jarred loose. It had taken a while for his groin to stop hurting too after Englehorn had unceremoniously broken up the one-sided beating. Christ, his bosom friend was strong!
Looking out at the gray, cold expanse of choppy water, Carl reflected that he should’ve waited a few more days for Jack’s rage at the “high bridge gate” and frustrated, uncomprehending hurt at Ann’s lightning- fast estrangement to settle down. Even after that, when you’d think he’d be more reasonable, his pal had repeatedly, all too predictably, answered with a flat-out no of disgust or a sardonic dig every time the offer of partnership had been brought up. That of course, was whenever Jack wasn’t throwing himself into writing his new play as a coping mechanism or territorially keeping Carl from coming within ten feet of him or his new cabin.
Well, frustrating as it was, there was no law that declared a man couldn’t foolishly shove away fame and fortune, and if Jack wanted to do that, it was his prerogative by all means. “Because of you Carl, I lost the only real treasure I’ve ever needed on that island,” Carl remembered Jack bitterly telling him.
That made the producer think about the person he most wanted to be in at Kong’s showing. If Jack was so dead-set on not participating, Carl could always find a doppleganger instead. Why keep beating a dead horse to no avail when Bruce Baxter could serve just as nicely in the true hero’s place?
But few women could easily take the place of Ann Darrow. What was going on in her blond head, for Christ’s sake? He’d heard her scream like she was slowly being impaled when the ape took her. He’d looked right into Kong’s thoughtful, yet malevolently shining, teak eyes and seen his body, big as a grain elevator, illuminated by the native fires. Carl had experienced firsthand their prisoner’s amazing power and fury, being rolled off the bucking log into the hadal gorge. One would think Ann would be as grateful to them as the maiden was to St. George for being freed from his clutches.
It had been just as flabbergasting to find that her reaction to Kong’s capture had been precisely the opposite one. Being frightened about the possibility that the ape would somehow get a hold of her again, maybe even kill her out of a sense of betrayal, Carl understood. Being angry at how he had done such an underhanded, cruel thing, ready to allow her and Jack to die, Carl could definitely understand.
He could even understand Ann becoming upset at the way in which Kong was captured, even after all he’d done to her. Hell, Carl himself had been slapped around by lions once or twice, and he still thought they were lordly, magnificent animals. If the producer had witnessed a lion being captured in the same manner as the ape had been, he’d probably be just as incensed at the deed too. But being enraged due to the fact that the ape had been captured at all, that was he didn’t understand.
She’d been an utter fury at his capture, screaming and fighting and shoving like a wildcat. Then his actress had gone into a state much like despondent shock, when she should’ve rightly been overjoyed and at peace. As they’d come closer to New York though, she’d adopted a sort of resigned, picking-up-the-pieces, slumping demeanor.
Even though Preston had told him many times that it was both a waste of time and sickeningly exploitative, he’d often tried to use the bizarre, unnatural bond the woman and the ape had to coax her into playing the lead in his production. Her response was always harsh and annoyingly predictable, but Carl Denham was nothing if not a persistent man, and decided to have a crack at it one more time. Hopefully, with New York City only three days away, and the specter of an uncertain life as an unemployed actress hovering ever more closely over her angelic head, Ann would be more receptive to his propositions this time.
Taking another gamble, he returned to the ship’s interior, and deliberately strode down the hallway until he reached the door of her cabin, having to pluck up his courage at each step. “Just stay calm and collected buddy, even if she is a much crazier broad than you thought,” he muttered to himself, raising his right hand to knock. Polite manners were always the first step to success after all, and not to mention disarming too, Carl’s father had told him.
“Come in,” a vapid voice murmured from within. Opening the knob, Carl saw Ann sitting on her bed in her now reorganized cabin, wearing a simple pale green cardigan and gray slacks against the cold as she read a copy of Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
“Say, good afternoon Ann. So you like Dickens too, huh? I-“
Immediately, Ann’s half-interested blue eyes became glacial ice. Leaping to her feet and throwing the book aside, she gave him the stare of a lioness as she shrieked, “Mr. Denham, get out of my room! You’ve come to make the same offer ever-“
Putting up his hands for both protection and placation, Carl hurriedly said, “Don’t be rash Ann. Just please hear me out and-“
“I’ve heard you out one too many times, you selfish bastard! And look where it’s gotten me! Nowhere. Look where it’s gotten him! Nowhere!” she yelled, starting to cry. “Just show some pity for once and leave me the hell be!” she said in anguish, pointing at the door as her eyes clenched in sadness.
“I am showing a lot of pity Ann,” Carl told her, arching his torso forward for emphasis. “Think about it, you could perform with him during the shows, and then spend as much time with the ape as your pure heart desires in the meantime! And think of all the money you’d rake in! Why, soon there’d be enough that the two of you could live in a nice warm place for-“
“For the rest of his life,” Ann shot back with a despairing, bitter coldness. “The rest of his life as a captive,” she mournfully said, tears beginning to flow as she put her hands over her face. “Because of you and because of me.”
Actually slightly moved to sympathy at the sight, Carl dared to move forward, lowering his head and saying softly, “Ann, don’t be silly and cry over it. You could live extremely well off that money, flourish to an extent your friends could only dream about-“
In an instant, Ann’s face shot upwards, darkening as it did so. Carl saw her throat muscles and lips tense for the briefest few seconds. Then glaring like a she-wolf, she spat right in his face. Shocked, the movie producer couldn’t even back away before Ann’s hands then detonated against each cheek, teeth in a snarl as she did so. “I’d rather take money from a crocodile than you Mr. Denham, you callous, filthy bastard,” she yelled.
Putting his fingers to each cheek, Carl tried a last ditch tactic, even as he wiped the spittle from near his nose. “Ann, this is probably the last opportunity you’ll ge-“
“I have nothing more to say! I don’t care!” Ann proclaimed in a harpy’s scream. “Get out of my cabin you jackal! Now!” she yelled, putting her hands on his chest and starting to shove.
Taken aback, cheeks and soul stinging, Carl braced himself for the enraged push. But it never came. Ann’s muscles began to tense, and then inexplicably relaxed. Suddenly, her eyes changed from blue diamonds of hate, and something else appeared in them instead. It was something so confused, so lost, so helpless, like the eyes of a creature that has fled from the zoo, and now has no idea what to do next in this terrifying human world.
To his shock and dismay, it finally dawned on Carl, for just a few dozen beats of his pulse as he looked into Ann’s gaze of damaged innocence and uncomprehending reproach, that he had horribly wronged her. Now he felt even lower and meaner than the giant insects in the gorge, the magnitude of his actions seeming to slowly crush him down like the ape’s fist.
Her hands were still lightly resting on the producer’s squat chest, and Carl followed the slim arms back to Ann’s torso. He’d wounded the heart that beat inside there terribly. What a crime to commit toward such a lovely woman. And oh, Ann Darrow was lovely indeed, as beautiful and busty as a Greek goddess, her palms so wonderfully warm against his chest…
“Come here Ann,” Carl told her in a whisper, tentatively clutching her body to his stout chest. Amazingly, her anger didn’t resurface, nor did she struggle. Not fully understanding why, Carl lowered his lips, and kissed his former actress on the crown of her head. Ann raised her right arm, and gave a grudging, halfhearted caress across his right side, making Denham shiver in unwilling pleasure.
The scandalous thing they’d both just done exploded into their brains like a lightning bolt’s impact at the same instant, and Carl pulled back from Ann in astonishment. For her part, Ann gaped at him in turn for a few brief seconds before her face was transformed back into a stony mask of hate. “Get your goddamn slave-master’s face out of my room and take your money with you,” she snarled, almost knocking him over from a brutal push with the heels of her trim hands.
“Alright then,” he hissed back, temper flaring. “Just remember that I could’ve provided handsomely for you when you’re shivering and turning blue someplace in the streets Miss Darrow.” He didn’t even bother to wait for a response, slamming the door audibly behind him and stomping back to his own room. Preston was gone for the moment, which was all to the good as far as Carl was concerned. The plump movie producer usually found it perversely satisfying to use his assistant as a kind of whipping boy, someone he could vent at and rant to without actually being directly angry towards. For once though, he wanted to fume and brood in solitary silence.
But his shaking mind kept coming back to one awed question: What had just happened there with Ann Darrow? Whatever it had been, Carl Denham knew that he’d unexpectedly liked it, and probably wouldn’t mind having more than just a taste. And his sharp powers of intuition led him to believe that Ann herself had liked it in her very own way too.