A/N - #2 in my Charles Muntz series. Please go read "Back" first, if you haven't. Muntz belongs to Disney/Pixar. This story takes place just prior to the beginning of the movie. There has always been some debate as to Muntz's age, but for the purposes of my timeline, he is 25 here.
"Cut" – an Up Fanfic
The sky was clear, flooded with sunlight, a blue so vivid he could taste it. He couldn't remember a day more beautiful, not even the day he had taken the Spirit of Adventure aloft for the first time. The temperature was balmy; the breeze was just enough to play the leaves like so many piano keys in a soothing concerto of nature. Through this melody ran a lyrical thread of bird song, chirps and warbles and trills from every tree, each accompanied by a rush of wings, a flash of feathers in streaks of red and indigo and gold. It was as if every bird in the city had congregated around him just to witness this day. To mock him.
The square, brick face of the National Explorers Society frowned austerely at him from the far side of the park. On the pavement in front of it was pacing a familiar figure, hat in hand, ginger hair lit like a torch in the sun. Coming at it from this distance, he was surprised by how fleshy it had grown, no longer the solid, compact anchor of his boyhood. I suppose that's what married life does to a man.
"There you are, C. F.!" The man had stopped pacing upon catching sight of him, but was still bobbing anxiously on his toes. "I was beginning to think you'd flown the coop."
Birds, again! he winced, as he strode past the other man and opened the door. "I'm a big boy, Uncle Bart," he replied, as coolly as he was able. "I can take my medicine."
He was halfway across the lobby when Bart caught him by the elbow – the man hadn't lost his iron grip – and thrust a telegram into his hand. "This came for you."
He flicked a quick glance at it, then froze, eyes wide. "The President?" he whispered, gaping at his uncle. Ah, now things were turning around! This will show them, this will clear up everything…He scanned the message eagerly – then felt his blood suddenly switch from a fizz to a boil. Uncle Bart must have seen the change in him, too, as he asked, "What is it?"
MUNTZ COME CLEAN. REMEMBER SAFARI. BOTH KNOW YOU CHEAT AT GIN. FDR
"Grrrrrah!" He crumpled the telegram and thrust it against Bart's chest. His uncle fumbled to read it, as Muntz snarled, "He was the one— " A hasty gesture made him lower his voice, but he finished the sentence. "He was the one who cheated! Where does he get off with that?" he snatched back the telegram and tore it in half, then quarters, then eighths…
The weight of Uncle Bart's hand on his arm stopped him, as the older man took the scraps from him. "Charles, you need to settle down. This sort of display isn't going to do you any good."
Charles? Uncle Bart hadn't called him Charles since he was ten years old. That was the year they had made their first expedition together. They had explored the Grand Canyon on mule-back – tame in comparison to later exploits, but a grand adventure at the time. He had kept his first journal, and signed his entries C. F. Muntz, because he thought it sounded more distinguished, for posterity. That was when Uncle Bart had begun calling him "C. F.," joshingly at first, but before long as an equal. To Mother, he was still "CharlesDear," to Father, he was "Son," to his revered Grandfather, George Muntz, he had granted the rarely-bestowed privelege of calling him "Charlie," but to Bartram Fox, the man who had introduced him to Adventure, he was exclusively "C. F." This sudden use of "Charles" only made him painfully aware of just how serious this situation was. And now, regarding his uncle with a mix of hurt and alarm, the next conscious thought that came out of his mouth was: "How long have you worn eyeglasses?"
"Not getting any younger, am I?" Bart took the excuse to offer a smile as he nudged his nephew into sitting down on a padded bench against the wall. "C. F., what really happened in South America?"
"You know what happened! I didn't make this up! I know the creature looks outlandish – I didn't believe it, myself, at first."
Bart's hand was on his shoulder; there was still something of the old anchor about him, after all. "You put together a puzzle made of prehistoric bones. You wouldn't be the first to mix up a few pieces. Or fill in some missing ones."
"You don't understand," he fumed, shrugging off the anchor. "It's not just the bones. It is a living, breathing thing! It exists! I've seen it with my own eyes!"
"Then it's too bad you didn't bring back a live specimen."
Bart's face was solemn. Muntz couldn't decide whether the man believed him or not. "I tried! It's all I did, for most of a year, hunt that blasted bird. It's too crafty, too cunning – for me, for the dogs…" He sat back with a weary sigh. "I wish I'd never come back without it. But, I'd promised Daisy I'd be gone for a year at the most. The wedding, you know. Which is off, now, by the way," he informed his uncle, bracing himself for the inevitable barrage of questions.
To his surprise, it didn't come. Uncle Bart was silent for several seconds before he finally said, flatly, "I'm sorry, C. F." Then, a moment later, he amended this in a burst of passion. "No, I'm not sorry! Good riddance to her! Dainty little high society butterflies; they're always more trouble than they're worth," he snorted. "Maybe now you'll go back to…" Bart pulled himself up short, and clamped his jaw shut.
Muntz finished the sentence, himself. "…go back to Paradise Falls and capture that live specimen."
"No," the other man confessed. "That's not what I was thinking."
"What, then?" he frowned, perplexed.
Uncle Bart looked him square in the eye and said, in an even voice: "You'll go back to Dorothy. Where you belong."
"What do you know about Dorothy?" he flinched, caught by surprise.
"Officially? Nothing," the man raised his hands in a gesture of innocence. "But, you don't expect me to believe she spent all those late nights on the airship redesigning your propeller hubs."
Muntz, with a stubborn hitch of his chin, staunchly refused to meet his uncle's suggestive gaze.
"Look," Bart gave in, "you don't have to tell me about it. But, whatever she was doing, it was good for you. You were a lot less insufferable when she was around."
There was no point in even trying to challenge this statement.
Bart was a dog with a bone now, however, and wouldn't stop gnawing at it. "If you ask me, she's the one you should have proposed to."
"I did." The words shot out before he could halt them.
There was an unpleasant length of silence between them, before Bart finally said, in a small voice: "Oh."
Another silence, not as lengthy but no less unpleasant, passed before Muntz said, "Well, go on. Say whatever it is you're going to say."
"What happened?" Bart asked cautiously, then tried to make a joke of it. "I've never yet heard of a woman who could say no to C. F. Muntz."
With a sidelong glare, he clarified, "It was the marriage she said no to." Fearing this sounded too ungentlemanly, he added, "She had her reasons."
"Don't they all?" Bart chuckled. "That's why it's up to you to talk her out of them…"
"It's over," Muntz put an end to this. "That's all in the past. The last time I saw her, she was going home to Iowa. She's probably there now, designing windmills and tractor engines." He hadn't thought about Dorothy for a while, and he didn't appreciate being reminded of her now. Uncle Bart was right, he should have been more persistent with her. The dogs had loved her.
The click of a latch sounded in the lobby, and the door to the conference room opened. Muntz looked to see who had drawn the short straw and been sent to fetch him.
"Simon…" he got to his feet as the man pulled the door shut again behind him. Was it better, or worse, to be led to the guillotine by a friend?
"Charles." The tall man looked as if he were trying to shrink himself to a less conspicuous height. Muntz hadn't seen an expression that guilty since the day he'd caught Cortez chewing up a priceless Macedonian sandal. "Mr. Fox," Simon Porter acknowledged Bart in an obvious play for time. "How are you, sir? I haven't seen you since…"
"Well, spit it out, Simon," Muntz interrupted. "Any last-minute reprieve?" As if he had to ask.
"You have to understand, Charles, this isn't personal…"
"The hell it's not."
"Travers and Brugh brought in the evidence…"
"What evidence? A few charts and diagrams they drew up in their laboratory? Couple of eggheads who can't see past their dusty old textbooks. When was the last time they came down out of their ivory tower and actually accomplished something?"
Porter raised his hands in an anxious attempt to calm him. "There's no point in getting worked up, it won't help you."
"That's what I told him," Uncle Bart muttered in the background.
"This is Larrabee's doing," Muntz accused, lowering his voice to a growl. "He's behind the whole thing. He's just been waiting for an excuse to kick me out of his precious club, the pompous old whale."
This made Porter's backbone stiffen as he retorted, "It's not all Larrabee, Charles. You've rubbed more than a few people the wrong way, don't deny it. And Edgar Larrabee is an accomplished man in his own right; there wouldn't be a National Explorers Society if it weren't for him."
"Phah!" Muntz dismissed this remark with a wave of his hand. Simon Porter had been looked down upon as the Callow Youth of the group until Muntz had come along. If he was going to start sticking up for the Old Guard now, matters really were dire.
"Look," Porter pressed him, "isn't there any more evidence you can produce, something the scientists can't refute? I want to believe you, Charles, but facts don't lie."
"And I do," he finished the thought in a terse voice.
"Of course not," Porter replied, although he didn't look so certain. "But… well, you do tend to spin some pretty fantastic stories."
Of course, there it was again: Muntz the Showman. The Celebrity – as if that were something to be ashamed of. Never mind that he had brought the idea of Adventure to a whole nation, lifted their imaginations, excited them about something beyond their humdrum little lives. All that this had gotten him from the stodgy old pedants of the National Explorers Society was jealousy and resentment.
Porter shifted on his feet and offered, with a weak smile, "If it's any consolation, Peggy still believes in you. 'Mr. Muntz is a great man who would never ever make things up,' that's her verdict. Oh, and she's still game to marry you, if you can wait ten or twelve years."
Despite everything, Peggy Porter's vote of confidence was enough to temper his anger, and he grinned a bit as he said, "I'll keep her in mind." Muntz regarded Porter for a moment, then let out a deep breath. "Well, we'd might as well get on with the formalities." He motioned toward the door. "After you."
You can handle this, he told himself. You're Charles F. Muntz, you're a bigger man than the whole lot of them put together, there is nothing they can dish out that you can't take…He stepped into the conference room, chin up, shoulders back, ready to face down the firing squad with his usual, jaunty confidence – or at least a convincing facsimile of it – when his eye fell on something he had not expected.
A camera. A film camera, with the words "MovieTown News" emblazoned on it, and a pudgy little man behind it, babbling, "Here he is! About time; I gotta get this footage on a train to Hollywood before Universal gets wind of it. All right, over there," he gestured at Muntz as if dismissing a waiter, and turned to the assembled members of the Society's Board of Directors. "Who's doing the honors here?"
Old Larrabee, his bloated face mottled with red, advanced and launched into his spiel: "Charles F. Muntz, you have disgraced the name of the National Explorers Society. It isn't enough that your antics have detracted from our honorable reputation, now you have subjected us to ridicule from the scientific community, itself, with this – this implausible fabrication of a so-called 'monster.'"
The MovieTown cameraman blurted, "You can skip the speechifying, gramps, I'm just here for the pictures. And get out of the shot, the audience wants their news photo-geenic."
"I'll do it," a smooth voice interjected, and a bald, bespectacled man came forward. "Dr. E. Felix Brugh, B-r-u-g-h, you might want to write that down," he informed the cameraman.
Larrabee allowed himself to be shuffled aside, but this didn't stop him from pointing a fat finger at Muntz and proclaiming, "You are a fraud, you young popinjay, and it is high time you were exposed as the self-promoting charlatan you are!"
Charles Muntz held his ground, chin high, brow lowered, eyes fixed straight ahead, as Dr. Brugh approached him. "Well, well, Muntz," he purred, "it would appear that he who lives by the camera shall die by the camera."
"Great," muttered Mr. MovieTown, "another Gabby Gertie. We're rolling here!"
"Charles F. Muntz," Dr. Brugh intoned, "your membership in the National Explorers Society is hereby revoked." The scientist reached out for the embroidered patch sewn to the breast of Muntz's leather flight jacket, and gave it a sharp tug. The patch held fast. With a sigh, Brugh turned to his colleagues. "Does anyone have a pair of scissors?"
"How about a pocket knife?" volunteered Captain Blanton, producing one.
He should use it to shave off those 19th century whiskers, thought Muntz. He could feel his ears burning as Brugh laid hold of his jacket and used the knife to sever a few threads at the top of the patch. You can handle this. Stand firm, don't budge. Muntz clenched his teeth. If he had dared to move so much as a muscle, he would have pounced on Brugh and snapped his pencil neck in his bare hands, and oh, what a newsreel that would make!
"Still rolling!" came from behind the camera.
This time, when the scientist took hold of the patch and pulled, it came away from the leather with a sharp rip. Muntz felt a jolt go through him, as if the man had torn away a piece of his flesh. He hoped the camera hadn't caught him wincing.
"And… cut," said the man from MovieTown.
And that was it. There was nothing more left to do but turn on his heel and head for the door. Porter tried to intercept him, looking as if he wanted to say something, but Muntz pushed past him and stalked out of the conference room and across the lobby. Once free of the oppressive pile of bricks, he drew a deep breath of the fresh air to clear his head. For half a moment, he considered ambushing the cameraman on his way out and destroying the film, but dismissed this plan as beneath his dignity. He was neither a liar, nor a fraud, and he was going to prove it. They would rue the day they tried to discredit Charles F. Muntz.
"Well, look at it this way, C. F.," Uncle Bart, still panting from the effort to catch up to him, was trying to be reasonable. "At least it's over."
"Oh, no," he replied through gritted teeth. "This is not over."
A/N: So, now you know the story behind the newsreel footage at the beginning of the film. I've always been really happy with the way this one turned out.