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Change of Scene
By Mary Kay Andrews
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Mary Kay Andrews
All rights reserved.
Thursday morning, day four of the Moondancing shoot in the California Pacific Coast mountains, Greer Hennessey stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the set painters as they transformed the dingy white Cayucos First Methodist Church into a barn-red schoolhouse.
The painters wore full-body white zip-front disposable suits, and as they aimed their spray guns at the weather-worn siding, any passerby might think they were possibly movie-made aliens, launching a paint attack on planet Earth.
Greer clicked off six or seven photos of the paint job, moving quickly around the perimeter of the church, before texting them to the director and art director for their approval.
"Love it," Hank Reitz, the director, texted back. "Running behind here today, so probably won't get to church shoot until Saturday."
Saturday. Greer sighed. This would mean moving back the rest of her locations as well. Lots more work. Lots more red tape. A typical day in the life of a location scout.
As she stood in the church parking lot, a white Toyota pulled alongside Greer's own dusty Ford Explorer. The Toyota's driver, a young blond woman with an unusually elaborate updo hopped out of the car and stood, staring at the church.
"What's going on?" The woman gestured toward the church.
"Filming a movie here this weekend," Greer said, not bothering to look up from her phone. "Moondancing."
"This weekend? You mean, like Sunday or tomorrow?"
Greer glanced over. The woman's face was flushed pink.
"I mean like Friday and Saturday," Greer said. "Maybe Sunday afternoon, too, if things run over."
"That can't be right," the woman said, her voice growing shrill. "I'm getting married here Saturday. At two o'clock."
"Here? As in this church?" Greer frowned.
"Right here. At Cayucos First Methodist Church. We've been planning this wedding for almost a year now. Does Reverend Barrow know about this movie thing?"
Without waiting for an answer, the woman flung open the door of the church office. She steamed past a startled-looking elderly receptionist, with Greer in her wake.
They found Reverend Barrow in his study, working on his Sunday sermon. He looked up from his computer, smiling when he saw Greer. But the smile dissolved as soon as he saw who was standing beside her.
"Hi, Carolyn," he said smoothly, standing to shake her hand. "All ready for the big day?"
"I am, but she," Carolyn said, shooting Greer a murderous look, "says they're shooting a movie here Saturday. Which is when I'm getting married."
"Oh no," the pastor said, frowning as he looked over the bride's shoulder at the location scout. "Our understanding was that the movie people would be done Friday night."
Greer bit her lip. "I realize that was the original plan. But we need to reschedule. I'm going to need the church Saturday. All day."
Carolyn's pretty bridelike features contorted with anger. "Well, you can't have the church. It's my church. And my wedding. Tell her, Reverend Barrow."
The pastor gave Greer a helpless look. "I'm sorry, but Carolyn is right. You told me you'd only need the church Friday, and maybe Sunday afternoon, after our services."
Greer gave Carolyn a long, appraising look. This was going to be an expensive complication. "Could I speak to you outside, please? Excuse us, Reverend."
Carolyn was in tears. She pointed at the painters. "What are they doing? Why are they painting this sweet white church red?" She pointed an accusing finger at Greer. "Why are you ruining the biggest day of my life?"
Greer took the Moondancing checkbook from her backpack.
"How's five thousand?" she asked.
"Five thousand? Dollars? For what?"
"Five thousand dollars. That's what we'll pay you if you'll move the wedding to another church. Or your mother's house. Or anywhere but this church, this Saturday," Greer said.
"You think you can buy my wedding day?" Mascara streamed down Carolyn's face. "This is my church. My parents were married here. My grandmother was buried here. This is a holy place for my family."
"I know," Greer said, handing the bride a tissue. "And it's beautiful. But think what kind of a honeymoon you could have for five thousand dollars."
Carolyn's eyes narrowed as she did the math. "Six thousand," she shot back. "For six thousand dollars we'll have the wedding in my stepfather's backyard. Also? You get Channing Tatum to show up at my bachelorette party at Sweet Willy's."
"I'll try," Greer said, scribbling the check. Channing Tatum wasn't in this film. She'd never met the man and didn't even know if he was in California. She just knew she had to make this bride believe he might show up.
* * *
She was driving the Explorer back down the mountain toward Paso Robles when she heard the blare of an oncoming emergency vehicle heading in the opposite direction on the narrow winding road. She managed to edge onto what passed as the shoulder but the fire engine came within inches of her SUV, closely followed by two more fire engines speeding in the same direction.
Fire trucks? She picked up her phone and called Hank Reitz. No answer. She tried the art director, one of the set dressers, and as a last resort, Blaine, Hank's assistant. Nobody was answering their phones. She turned around and headed up the mountain toward the Miller place and the Moondancing shoot.
* * *
She smelled the fire before she saw it. And then she rounded a turn on the road and she saw it, oily black plumes of smoke rising from the side of the mountain.
"Oh no," she whispered. "Please, not that." She felt a chill run down her spine, despite the summer heat.
Two more fire engines sped past, followed by an ambulance.
"Oh no, no, no," she muttered. She floored the nine-year-old Ford's gas pedal, and felt the automatic transmission downshift.
Another mile up the road, a sheriff's deputy had pulled his cruiser across the road. He stood in front of it, waving her to a stop.
Greer leaned out the Explorer's open window. "What's going on, officer?"
"There's a fire up the road. We're only allowing emergency personnel to pass through."
"Can you tell me where the fire is?" she said anxiously. "I work for the movie company that's filming up here at the Miller place."
He shrugged. "All I know is they've got it under control now, but the chief doesn't want a lot of rubberneckers getting underfoot."
"Is the fire at the Miller place?" Greer repeated. "I saw an ambulance go by, after the fire engines. Is everybody okay?"
The deputy lowered his mirrored sunglasses. "I'm not authorized to release any information, but I can tell you we always dispatch an ambulance for a fire, just as a precaution."
"Can you just tell me if the fire was at the Miller's?" she pleaded. "I work with these people. Please?"
He glanced around, as though somebody might overhear him. "Yeah, okay, it started on the Miller place. Some a-hole decided it would be a good idea to start a fire for your movie. Even though we're in the middle of a drought, with a no-burn ordinance in effect."
Greer bit her lip and looked away. She knew exactly which a-hole had made that decision.
"We had some wind gusts up there this morning, the fire got out of control. From what I hear, it burned down an old barn, then spread to the avocado grove."
A radio clipped to the deputy's shoulder squawked. He turned his back to her, walked over to the shoulder of the road to confer, and stayed there for nearly five minutes.
She again called everybody she'd tried reaching earlier, but with the same results. Nothing.
The deputy walked slowly back to the car. "Okay, that was the chief. They're sending the ambulance back down. One of the movie guys is gonna be treated at the hospital for smoke inhalation, but that's it. No burn injuries."
She felt herself slowly exhale. "Thank God. Is the fire out? Can I go on up there now?"
"They don't tell me the details," the deputy said with a growl. "I just block traffic and arrest anybody who gives me any shit." He looked over the rim of his sunglasses at her, in a way that suggested she shouldn't contemplate asking too many more questions.
* * *
For an hour, Greer sat in her car, fumed and worried. Three or four more cars approached the roadblock, and after a few words with the deputy, turned around and headed back down the mountain.
Finally, the deputy took another call on his radio, and shortly after that, he walked over and got in his cruiser and started to pull away.
"Hey!" Greer called, leaning halfway out the window of the Explorer. "You're leaving? Does that mean the fire's out? Can I go up there now?"
"You can go up as far as your people's base camp next door, but no closer. They're telling me the fire's out, but the crews are still on the scene, and we've got an investigator on the way, so stay away from the Miller place. Got it?"
"Got it." Greer nodded for emphasis. "An investigator? Why an investigator?"
"That fire was set illegally," the deputy said, his face grim. "This ain't Hollywood up here. Somebody's ass is gonna be in a sling."
* * *
Even with the air conditioner in the Explorer at full blast, she could smell the smoke as far as half a mile from the farm. What would the fire mean for the shoot? Would it be shut down, or would she need to find alternate locations? One thing was certain, damages meant lawyers and insurance people. Not good.
Without even realizing it, she was immediately in location scout survival mode. She glanced down at her cell phone, checking to see that it was fully charged.
More sheriff's cars blocked the entrance to the Miller farm. Greer pulled up alongside a sour-faced female deputy. "I'm with the Moondancing crew," she announced. "The deputy down the road said it was okay for me to come up now."
"Over there," the woman said, pointing toward the driveway to the base camp. "But stay out of the way."
The production company's base camp was eerily quiet. Half a dozen crew members sat under the canopy outside the catering wagon, sipping from water bottles and talking quietly, but otherwise the site, which would normally have been bustling with activity, looked deserted.
She found Hank in his RV, seated at a desk, talking rapidly on the phone, his back to her. She tapped his shoulder, he wheeled around, and she saw that his face and clothing were streaked with soot and sweat.
"Okay, yeah. She just came in. I'll get back to you as soon as I know more. The investigator's with Dave Walker, our special-effects guy right now, and as soon as he talks to the cast, I'll send them back to the hotel."
Hank hung up and rubbed his forehead, smearing the soot up into his hairline.
"How are you?" she asked, fidgeting with the phone she'd tucked into the pocket of the canvas fly-fishing vest she wore on locations.
He shrugged. "Shell-shocked."
"Who got sent to the hospital?"
"Ahmed, one of the special-effects guys. When the fire started to spread, he got a little too close, trying to put it out. He'll be okay. They really only took him for observation."
"Everybody else is okay?"
Another shrug. "I just talked to one of the studio's lawyers in L.A. They're notifying the insurance people."
She nodded. "I've got all the releases in a file in my room back at the hotel. Photographs of everything, too. Will we have to shut down the whole shoot?"
"I hope not."
His face brightened a little.
"We got killer stuff. I can't wait to see the footage. The fire was amazing. Huge billows of smoke. Of course, Danielle went all drama queen when she saw it was the real thing. But we kept the cameras going. Her whole face was black with the soot. Those avocado trees are oily as hell. Who knew? She was coughing and gagging. The real deal. I'm telling you, it was killer."
Danielle could have been killed, Greer thought. Everybody could have, if the wind had kept gusting. But all Hank Reitz cared about was his killer footage.
"Will the locals make you shut down the movie?" Greer repeated.
"Depends on what the sheriff's investigator has to say. The guy's got a bug up his ass about us doing the fire without a special permit. Apparently, we should have had one."
"I told you we needed a permit," Greer said plaintively.
"Well, we didn't get one. And now we're fucked," Hank said with a shrug. "Hindsight and all that."
"How did it get out of control, anyway? Dave assured me he was going to take every precaution."
The RV door swung open, and one of the production assistants, a young kid named Eric with tattoo sleeves on both arms, stepped inside. "Uh, Hank, somebody to see you."
"Not now," Hank snapped. "Get his name and his number. I'm in a meeting."
"Uh, well ..."
"The hell you are," a man's voice called out. He shoved Eric aside. He was older, in his late seventies, at least, but tall and big-boned, with a deeply tanned bald head and a full white beard. He wore a short-sleeved Western-style pearl-snap shirt, newish jeans with a sharp crease, well-worn cowboy boots, and a look of pure outrage.
"Who's this?" Hank asked, looking at Eric.
"This is the man whose farm you just about burned down today," the old man said, thumping his own chest. "This is Mac Miller, the guy who's gonna sue your ass and maybe even get it thrown in jail for trespassing and I don't know what all else. I'm thinking you might want to have a meeting with me."
"Mac Miller?" Hank shot a look at Greer. "Is this the guy you've been dealing with?"
"No!" Greer said sharply. "Garland Miller is the homeowner."
"Garland?" The old man's upper lip curled in disgust. "Is that what he told you? I might have known he was behind this. Garland don't own shit."
"That can't be right," Greer said. "All the neighbors told me Old Man Miller owned this place. Garland met me at the farmhouse. Showed me around, signed all the release forms. He gave us permission to film. We paid him a fifteen-thousand-dollar fee to allow the filming."
"If you did, you're dumber than you look," Mac Miller said.
"Is Garland your son?" Greer asked. "Maybe he just assumed he had the right ..."
"Garland don't have no rights to nothin'. He's my nephew. I thought we'd run him off the last time he rolled through here, but I guess he came back while I was out of town."
"You're Old Man Miller?" Greer asked, her voice little more than a whisper. She closed her eyes as a wave of nausea washed over her.
"I'm James McMahan Miller, and I own this land and the farm your people just about burned to the ground. I own those beef cattle your people let escape from my pasture, I own the goat barn you destroyed, and I own the fifteen acres of avocado groves you just wiped out. Fifteen acres of prime avocados that were going to be picked next week. Fifteen acres of trees that are right now just a smoldering pile of black ash. You're by-God right I'm Old Man Miller."
Greer recalled the prediction made just an hour earlier by the sheriff's deputy up the road. Somebody's ass would be in a sling, he'd said. And now hers was.
* * *
"We got this," Dave Walker had assured her. She could almost hear his voice whispering in her ear as she drove away from what was left of the Miller homestead, with the stink of smoke clinging to her hair and clothes.
On the way back down the mountain to the hotel in Paso Robles, Greer called Garland Miller's cell phone and got a recording. "The number you are calling is either not in service or has been disconnected."
She cursed softly and floored the Explorer's accelerator.
"Garland Miller's room," she told the desk clerk at the Hilton. "Two-oh-four." The young woman punched in his room number, stared at her computer screen, and frowned. "Oh, him. He's gone. When our housekeepers went in to clean this morning, they found both his rooms empty. And they'd been trashed. The coffeemaker, towels, bathmats, all the bed linens, including the bedspreads were missing."
She tapped an icon on her computer screen and a second later, the printer sprang to life. The clerk stapled the sheets of paper together and handed them across to Greer, whose head was starting to throb.
The printout ran to eight pages of items that had been charged to Garland Miller's rooms. It was as though a band of gypsies had moved into the Hilton for three nights. The bar bill alone was $600, room service was $1,300, in-room entertainment — dial-up porn — accounted for another $300. A $500 surcharge had been added to the bill, because Garland and company had smoked in a no-smoking property. The last two pages of the printout inventoried all the items Garland Miller had looted from his suite: ice buckets, glasses, bath towels, pillows, blankets, bedspreads, lamps....
Excerpted from Change of Scene by Mary Kay Andrews. Copyright © 2016 Mary Kay Andrews. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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