Saturday, March 9, 10:00 a.m. (PST)
It’s time to pull the trigger on Operation Bacon. I’ll sneak two pounds of fried Canadian pig inside Julia’s trailer, and we’ll enjoy the fatty flesh before her big press conference. Julia tries to be vegan, but she can’t turn down the luscious pork from the land of her people. I love being a bad influence.
I walk through a maze of tables arranged on the grassy bluff. Chatty journalists sit in chairs, enjoying their catered breakfast while ignoring the majestic Pacific Ocean below. I sidle up to the chef’s station where Chef Rafa is whipping up omelets. He hands me two paper plates taped together. “There’s a lot of pig in there, Esse, so it should stay warm.”
“I owe you, brother.” I slide out of line and weave back through the tables.
It’s going to be a busy day. After breakfast, Julia and Trishelle will announce that their new company, A-OK Productions, will be producing its first movie, Under Withering Fire,about the Vietnam War, to be shot here in Malibu. Trishelle is Julia’s best friend, manager, and producing partner, and she convinced Julia they should host the press conference onsite, which is, coincidentally, not far from our home. The weather, eleven days before spring, is perfect.
I’ll be the stunt coordinator. It will require focus, planning, and zero schmoozing, which is perfect, for now. This is not my career—flipping cars for my movie star fiancée is not the long-term plan, but at least we’re together.
Carl Webb appears from nowhere and steps in front of me. “I’ve seen that look before. You’re on a mission.”
“I’m sneaking bacon into Julia’s trailer. We’re going to chow down.”
“How about you and I joyride that Ferrari parked over there later? That’d be nice.” He points at the red stunt car that Julia’s character will be driving in the movie.
“Don’t get too excited. It’s got a Ford Fiesta motor. It’s just a prop I drove here for the press conference.”
“Too bad,” Carl says and leads the way through the last tables toward Julia’s trailer.
Carl was the team leader of our Army Ranger reconnaissance team. He now runs Global Webb Securities. We’ve saved each other’s lives enough times that we don’t need to wear friendship bracelets to remember.
He also looks like a football Hall of Famer in his thousand-dollar suit, while I’m in jeans and a T-shirt. At least I have a thick head of black hair. He’s as bald as Mr. Clean.
A small blonde with a big voice blocks our path. “Wait. You’re those Rangers.”
“Used to be,” Carl says. He tries to pass, but she puts her hand on his chest.
“Gwen Thompson, CBC correspondent. You’re Carl Webb, and you’re Steven Quintana. You rescued Julia once.”
“Yup. In the Bahamas. Almost four years ago,” Carl says.
“And Julia rescued you from that crashing plane,” Gwen says, pointing at me.
A man eating at a nearby table, yells. “Celebrity Exposedsays that was all fake!”
“Nope. It all happened,” Carl says.
“Then prove you’re as amazing as they say you are,” Gwen says.
“Hand me a piece of paper with something on it,” I say, accepting her challenge.
Trishelle appears behind us, holding a clipboard. “Gwen, can I answer any questions?”
“Give Steven Quintana whatever’s on your clipboard.”
Trishelle hands me a piece of paper. “It’s just the call sheet for today’s event.”
I look at the four quadrants of the page, moving my thumb to each corner, then hand the paper to Gwen. “Quiz me.”
She rolls her eyes and looks at the page. “Nearest emergency room.”
“Providence Saint John’s, 2121 Santa Monica Boulevard.”
“Who is the production assistant, and what’s his call time?”
“She’s a woman. Toni Fleischaker. Her call time was 5:45 a.m. at the crew parking lot at Gladstone’s at the Beach, in the crew shuttle van at 6:00 a.m.”
Gwen seems impressed. “You have a photographic memory.”
Carl nods. “And that’s only one of his superpowers.”
There is no such thing, but I don’t admit that. I had an eidetic memory as a kid, but it’s fading with age. The Army taught me how to memorize something fast and keep it in my brain for a day or two.
“Thank you for the show, gentlemen!” Trishelle shoos us away, but not before trading a wink with Carl. We leave her behind to smooth things over.
Carl and I dart past the last table and up the stairs into Julia’s trailer. I put the warm plates on the Formica table, grab a red Sharpie, and draw a heart. Julia busted me hard for not giving her a Valentine last month, so maybe this will make up for it.
The bedroom door opens, and Julia emerges. We lock eyes and grin. She’s dressed as her character: low jeans, a tie-dyed shirt, and a headband around her wavy, blonde hair, like a war protestor from the 1970s. My knees knock like a swooning high school girl. We slam into each other and kiss.
“You send me. Honest you do,” I whisper.
Carl motions like he’s gagging.
Julia sniffs the air. “Did you bring me bacon?” She rips the plates apart and pops a greasy piece in her mouth as her eyes roll back in her head.
She notices Carl. “Hello, Mr. Webb! You look wonderful, as usual. Steven, what are you going to wear?” She looks at me like I’m naked.
“What for? I’m not making any speeches.”
“To meet the minister and the wedding planner after the press conference. They’re making a special trip out here.”
Even with my memory training, I still forget the scary stuff, like marriage. She wants us to get hitched right after production, and then adopt a child by the end of the year. Parachuting into war zones with Carl was less daunting.
“What about you? You look like a hippie.”
Julia puts her hands on her hips. “I have a proper outfit steamed and ready.”
Carl grins, enjoying my discomfort. “Let me cut the tension.” He pulls an envelope out of his jacket pocket and thrusts it between us. “Major Glenn Ward found the names of the man and woman who caused all your problems. Just tear it open.”
Julia and I stare at the envelope like it’s radioactive. Major Glenn Ward works for Army Cyber Operations and consults for Carl on the side, with the Army’s permission. Eighteen months ago, when I was trapped on a crashing plane, Glenn’s expertise helped save my life. Now, after months of work, Carl and Glenn have tracked down the sick masterminds who created Six Passengers, Five Parachutes.
Neither Julia nor I reach for the envelope. It reeks of bad luck.
Carl flicks it up and down. “Boss Man’s real name is Douglas Bushnell.”
I saw Boss Man only once, standing next to his jet on an airfield in Mexico. That was right before he and Tina strapped me into a flying bomb alongside five killers and broadcast it on Pay-per-view. That was a bad day.
Carl stops flicking. “I understand if you don’t want to open it. You two are on a winning streak. But, now that we know his name, we can catch him, no matter how rich he is. But only if you want.”
I don’t touch it. We’re still wounded. Escaping to a lake house in Canada and living off-grid for a year until our nightmares pass is the best solution. Not for Julia. She pushes through the pain instead. She produces a movie, plans a wedding, and preps for a family, all while paying a fortune to catch the bad guys who gave her the pain in the first place.
We stare at each other.
Julia exhales and grabs the envelope. I half-expect it to burn her, but it doesn’t. She rips it open. I hope whatever is inside won’t spoil our lucky streak.