Read an Excerpt
71 Years Later
he Lamborghini Aventador Roadster tore through the intersection, the bright-orange supercar’s tires screaming. In its wake, two gleaming black Mercedes SLS AMG sports cars skidded around the corner, their V8 engines snarling like enraged beasts.
The gull-wing passenger door of the lead SLS swung upward. A man, face hidden behind a bandanna, leaned out. The malevolent little MAC-11 machine pistol in his hand barked, vivid spurts of flame longer than the weapon itself gouting from the barrel as he unleashed a spray of automatic fire at the Lamborghini.
The Aventador’s driver jerked the steering wheel to the left. The convertible whipped into a lane of oncoming traffic as sparks and dust spat up from the asphalt alongside it. An SUV rushed straight at it—
The driver swept up onto the sidewalk. Pedestrians screamed and leapt for safety. The Mercs continued their pursuit, the second car’s gull-wing opening to reveal another masked man . . .
Holding an RPG-7 rocket launcher.
Danger behind—and ahead. The street was blocked by a tanker truck.
No way around it . . .
But there was a way over it.
A panel van with a lowered rear ramp was parked at the curb, its interior empty save for some cardboard boxes. The driver swerved back onto the road, aiming his car directly at it—
“And . . . cut!”
The Aventador came to a rapid stop. Behind it, both AMGs also slowed, wheeling around ready for the next take.
Nina Wilde, standing beside a camera crane, responded to the action with a dismissive shrug. “Y’know, I don’t think they ever got above thirty miles per hour,” the redhead complained.
Her husband was rather more impressed. “Oh, come on,” said Eddie Chase, eyeing the Lamborghini with distinct automotive lust. “You’ve got to admit, being on a movie set is pretty cool.”
“Yeah, when something’s actually happening.” They had been on the imitation New York street for over an hour, and this was the first time the cameras had rolled.
Macy Sharif nodded in agreement. “Thank God for trailers,” said the younger woman, indicating a large and luxurious mobile home parked at the end of the back lot. “Grant’s is kitted out better than his own apartment. And he’s got a really nice apartment.”
“So you like life in Hollywood, then?” Eddie asked with a grin. “Being a model’s better than being an archaeologist?” The Englishman glanced sidelong at his wife, the grin becoming more cheeky. “Always thought it must be.” She jabbed him with her elbow in response.
“I still am an archaeologist,” Macy insisted. “I got my degree—yay!—and I’m starting on my master’s soon. But . . . yeah,” she admitted, smiling, “being a model was cool. I’ll show you the magazine later. I think you’ll like it.”
“I’m sure I will,” said Eddie.
Nina gave him a teasing look. “You’d better not like it too much. You’re wearing clothes in it, aren’t you, Macy?”
“Of course I am!” she replied.
Nina looked her friend up and down. The dark-haired young Floridian was in cutoff denim shorts and a midriff-baring T-shirt, both garments tight enough to show off her toned figure. “More than you are now?”
A moment’s consideration. “Maybe . . .”
The Lamborghini pulled up in front of them and its door scissored open. Grant Thorn climbed out and called to a man in a baseball cap. “How was that, Mikey?”
The director was reviewing various camera angles on a bank of monitors. “Lookin’ good, lookin’ good . . . yeah, print it.”
“And you can see it’s really me driving?”
“Yeah, Grant, we can tell it’s you.”
“Awesome.” The tanned actor gave the director a thumbs-up, then embraced Macy, lifting her off her feet and spinning around with a “Hey, babe!” before turning to his guests. “So? What d’you think?”
“That was . . . cool,” said Nina politely.
Eddie snorted. “Don’t listen to her, she doesn’t appreciate action movies.”
“Hey! I like good action movies,” she objected.
“Like mine, huh?” said Grant.
“So what happens next?” Eddie cut in before Nina could offer any film criticism. He gestured at the van. “Hit the ramp, jump over the truck?”
Grant nodded. “You got it, man. And one of the bad guys shoots a rocket, which hits the tanker, and the whole thing blows up while the Lambo’s going over it. Boom! Obviously they’re not using the real car for that, and the stunt guy’s gonna be driving, but I’d totally do it if they’d let me.”
Nina looked unconvinced. “Yeah, totally.”
“Can’t wait to see it,” said Eddie.
“Afraid you’ll have to, dude,” Grant told him, with a slightly condescending chuckle. “It’ll take them, like, four hours to set everything up. I’m actually done for the day—the second unit takes over from here.”
“Wait, that’s your whole day’s work?” said Nina. “Driving a car down a fake street for thirty seconds?”
“No, man, I did more than that!” Grant replied, slightly affronted. “I did my in-car close-ups before you guys got here. Mikey wanted the right light so I’d look my best.” He turned his head to show off his blandly handsome profile.
“Well, yeah, you definitely need a break after working your arse off like that,” said Eddie.
As always, the sarcasm went clean over Grant’s perfectly gelled hair. “I know, dude, I know. So, anyway, how are you guys? Macy tells me you’re on a big vacation—like a world tour or something?”
“You could say that,” Nina replied.
“Cool! Where’ve you been?”
Eddie started counting off places on his fingers. “So far? Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, Italy, France, Spain, saw my family in England . . . We just started a bit of a West Coast tour here in the States. Did the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, and after LA we’re going on to San Francisco and up to Seattle.”
“That’s a lot of travel, dude,” said Grant, impressed. “So what made you decide to do it? You two are usually total workaholics. Well, you are, Nina,” he added with a laugh.
She didn’t return it. “We just wanted a break,” she said quietly. The faint sigh underlying her words attracted a curious look from Macy.
The actor didn’t notice, though. “And when did you kick all this off?”
“Two months ago,” Eddie told him.
“Two months! Hope you remembered to get all your frequent flier miles!” Grant laughed again. “But while you’re in LA, everything’s on me, okay? How do you like the limo?”
The movie star had arranged for a stretch limousine to transport the couple around the city—though its styling was not what Nina would have chosen. “It’s, ah, fine,” she said. “Thanks for organizing it for us. It beats taking cabs everywhere. Or having a rental car.”
Eddie huffed. “We could have been cruising around California in a Mustang GT500 convertible, but nooo . . .”
“Yeah, I remember how much you like your fast cars, man!” Grant said. “You know, that time you drove me through New York at, like, two hundred miles an hour? It actually helped my acting. When I did Nitrous 2, whenever I was driving I just remembered how it felt, Method-style! I got some great reviews for that, so thanks, dude.”
Even the star’s best reviews tended to feature the word wooden, so Eddie didn’t want to imagine what his bad ones were like. “Don’t you mean Ni-two-rous?” he asked, grinning. The predecessor of the movie currently shooting had been given the rather awkward moniker Ni2rous.
Grant waved a hand. “Don’t get me started, man. Leno and Letterman both gave me crap for that when I was promoting it. I don’t pick the titles.”
“You can’t pronounce them either.”
“At least you won’t have any problems with this one,” said Nina. She indicated a stack of equipment cases, which were labeled simply nitrous 3.
“Nah, that’s just the working title,” said Grant. “We’re getting a focus group to decide on the coolest option. Oh, hey, what do you think? The two titles we’ve got are . . .” He paused for dramatic effect. “Nitrous 3: Overdrive Or alternatively . . . Nitrous 3: Maximum Boost Which one’s best?”
“I don’t think either of them fully captures the subtle nuances of the series,” said Nina, arching an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” Eddie agreed. “It should be something more like Nitrous 3: Tits and Explosions! With an exclamation mark.”
“It’s a PG-13, so no boobies, man,” Grant said with regret. Macy gave her boyfriend a huffy pout. “I like the exclamation thing, though. I’ll suggest that.”
“Nitrous 3: Balderdash,” Nina added under her breath. “Nitrous 3: Physics, Schmysics . . .”
“Anyway,” said the actor, “give me five minutes to get changed and we’ll go have lunch. There’s something I want to talk to you both about.”
Husband and wife exchanged looks. “What is it?” Nina asked.
“Spoilers, man,” Grant said with a cocky grin as he headed for his trailer. “You’ll find out soon.”
It was nearer ten minutes than five, but Grant eventually emerged, having changed from his character’s costume of ultratight jeans and white T-shirt into a blue Italian suit and a pair of sunglasses. “Very stylish,” said Nina approvingly. As much as she loved Eddie, his usual outfit of considerably cheaper and looser T-shirt and jeans, allied with a scuffed black leather jacket, was not exactly high fashion.
“Thanks,” Grant replied, beaming. “Thought I oughta look smart if we’re talking business.”
Another exchange of puzzled glances. “What business?” demanded Eddie.
“I’ll tell you soon. Come on, let’s take a ride.” Walking arm in arm with Macy, Grant led the couple to a golf cart. The actor at the wheel, they drove off.
Nina looked up at the building façades as they cruised past. “It’s amazing. They look so real.”
“They are real,” Eddie said with a mocking smile. “They don’t do everything with CGI yet.”
“You know what I mean. They’ve done a really good job of distilling New York. I know it’s just painted plaster, but it’s still quite impressive how realistic it is.”
“Hey, if you want to see something from New York that’s really impressive,” Grant piped up, “check this out.” He turned at the next intersection, the freestanding four- and five-story mock-up buildings giving way to flatter frontages wrapped around the exterior of a soundstage.
Macy looked over her shoulder at Nina. “You’ll love this,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. It’s kinda freaky.”
“What is?” Nina asked.
“You’ll see,” said Grant. The golf cart pulled up at a ramp leading to the soundstage door, outside which was stationed a uniformed security guard. “Hey, my man!” called the actor as he climbed out. “Showing my friends the set. That cool with you?”
The guard’s expression suggested that it wasn’t, but within the walls of a film studio, nobody dared challenge the wanderlust of an A-list star. “No problem, Mr. Thorn,” he said through his teeth as he proffered a clipboard. “If they’ll sign in here, please?”
“Come on, come on,” Grant said excitedly. Macy, Nina, and Eddie scribbled their names, then followed him inside.
A strong scent of paint and fresh sawdust greeted them, the thwack of someone hammering nails echoing through the cavernous chamber. Before them was a huge wall, a mass of wooden panels supported by metal scaffolding and beams of rough raw pine that stretched almost to the lighting gantry high above. Nina had to tip her head back to take in its whole height. “What is it?”
“You’ll know when you see it. Come on, around here.” Grant led them along the stage’s side, passing several workmen. He waved to them in greeting. “My man! How you doing? Dude, good to see you. You too, guy. Hey, dude.”
“You know them all?” Nina asked when they were past.
“Not a one,” replied Grant with a shrug. “I do two or three movies a year, and there are, like, six hundred new people working on each of them. Keeps ’em all happy if I say hi, though.” He paused at a set of double doors in the great wall. “Okay, this is it. Go on in, Nina.”
Intrigued, Nina advanced through the doors, walking into—
“Oh, wow,” she gasped.
For a moment, she felt a bizarre sense of dislocation, as if she had traveled over two thousand miles in a single step. The room she had entered was very familiar: the lobby of the General Assembly building at the United Nations in New York. Three floors of elegantly curved white balconies overlooked the checkerboard floor of the public space, light through the tall ranks of windows opposite reflecting off the gleaming replica of Sputnik suspended overhead.
Only . . . it wasn’t quite right. Everything was compacted, squeezed down in scale, and the view of Manhattan outside was frozen in two dimensions. The corridor behind the reception desk that should have led deeper into the building was abruptly truncated by a green curtain. Even the light from outside was subtly wrong, the harsh glare of studio lamps instead of the warmer, more diffuse tones of sunlight.
She looked back at her companions. Eddie appeared impressed by the replica, while Grant and Macy were grinning with anticipation. “So?” said Grant. “You like it?”
“Isn’t it cool?” added Macy. “It’s just like being in the actual UN!”
“Yeah, it’s pretty amazing,” Nina replied, turning to take it all in. “It’s smaller than the real thing, though.”
Grant nodded. “Yeah, they had to squish everything to fit it into the stage. It’ll look fine on camera, though. Put the right lens on, and they can make a broom closet look like a ballroom.”
“So what happens in here?” asked Eddie. “If it’s for Nitrous 3: Shit Explodes, I don’t suppose you’ll be delivering any long speeches about world peace.”
“Nah, nothing boring like that, dude,” said Grant cheerfully. He pointed toward the main entrance. “I’m gonna smash through there in a Ferrari, then do a drift to knock down the North Koreans shooting at me. Then I run up the stairs after the mad general with the suitcase nuke. We have a big fight, he uses all these darts and guns and crazy shit built into his bionic arm, and I end up hanging from that thing up there.”
“That ‘thing’ is the Foucault pendulum,” said Nina icily, glancing at the gold-plated sphere dangling on a long wire above one end of the lobby.
“What, it’s part of a clock?”
“Thought it was just some cool swinging ball dealie. Anyway, there’s a big electromagnet inside it, so I use it to deflect a bullet he shoots at me—”
Eddie normally let his disbelief be suspended very high when it came to action movies, but the former Special Air Service soldier couldn’t let that go unchallenged. “Don’t think so, mate. Magnets don’t affect bullets.”
Grant regarded him uncertainly. “You sure?”
“I’ve got some experience in that area, so yeah.”
“Huh. Wouldn’t have thought the writers would get that wrong. I’d better tell ’em—don’t want people to think the story’s stupid!”
“God forbid,” sighed Nina.
“Still, it’s a movie, so the rule of cool applies, right? Anyhow, he misses and I swing across and use the magnet to grab his bionic arm so that he’s trapped, then I shove the detonator I took out of the nuke inside his arm, and just before I jump to safety I tell him, wait for it . . . ‘Know what my favorite book is? A—’ ”
“A Farewell to Arms?” Eddie predicted.
“Yeah, that’s right, good guess! And then his arm explodes. Awesome, huh?”
“It’s certainly incredible,” said Nina, struggling to restrain an eye roll that would have snapped her head back with its sheer momentum. “Although don’t take this the wrong way, Grant, but it all sounds kinda . . . far-fetched.”
“Nah, it’ll be great. The writers know what they’re doing.”
“The same writers who think bullets are magnetic?” said Eddie, smirking.
Grant considered that, then dismissed the thought. “Anyway, it’s cool, huh? It’ll look totally like the real thing on film. Hey, maybe we could have the premiere at the real United Nations. You could put in a word, Nina!”
“I’ll think about it,” she said, having already done just that for the millisecond the suggestion deserved. She walked deeper into the set, looking up at the tiered balconies. The resemblance to the real United Nations building was indeed uncanny . . . enough to trigger an unexpected pang of emotion within her.
A mixture almost of homesickness—the feeling that this was where she should be—and sadness. Loss. Until two months earlier, the UN complex had been the focus of her work, her base of operations as an archaeologist with the International Heritage Agency. Now she knew it was unlikely she would ever return. She gazed at the facsimile, lost in reverie.
Footsteps behind brought her back to the present. “I’m going to miss this place,” she said quietly, thinking it was Eddie.
It wasn’t. “What do you mean?” asked Macy, stopping beside her. Another curious look, this time with concern behind it. “You’re just taking a break from work, like a sabbatical . . . aren’t you?”
Nina didn’t reply, but the silence was broken by Grant. “Okay, dudes. Let’s go have lunch. And talk.”
His expectant grin told the couple that he had more in mind than social chitchat. “Talk about what?” said Eddie.
Nina glanced at Macy. “Do you know what he’s on about?”
She tried to contain a smile. “Some of it. Trust me, you’ll be interested.”
Still beaming, Grant gestured for the others to follow him back to the golf cart, and they resumed their drive through the lot. “All right, Grant, come on,” said Eddie. “What’s the big thing you want to talk to us about?”
The actor appeared briefly conflicted. “I kinda wanted to wait until you met my business partner, but . . . ah, okay, whatever. I’ve started my own production company!”
“Really? Congratulations,” said Nina.
“It’s called Every Rose Productions,” Macy added.
Eddie and Nina exchanged puzzled glances, before getting it. “Because Every Rose has its Thorn, right?” she said.
“You got it!” Grant replied, extremely pleased with himself.
Eddie groaned. “Jesus, I thought my puns were bad.”
Grant ignored him. “I’ve done well as an actor, but I want more control, you know? More of a stake in the success. So I teamed up with this guy I’ve worked with before—you’ll meet him at lunch—and we’ve got some projects up and running.”
“What sort of projects?” Eddie asked.
“You ever heard of the Gabriel Payne books?”
“No,” said Nina.
“Yeah,” Eddie said simultaneously. “I’ve read some of ’em. Thrillers. They’re not bad. Sort of Jack Reacher knockoffs.”
“We bought the rights to the series,” Grant told them. “I’m gonna play Gabriel Payne. Former Navy SEAL, tormented loner with a dark past who’s irresistible to women—it’s perfect for me.”
Eddie gave the blue-eyed, fair-haired actor a skeptical look. “In the books . . . isn’t he black?”
“This is Hollywood, man! Things change. If Brits can play Americans, why not this?”
“It’s not quite the same thing,” said Nina in disbelief.
Grant wasn’t listening. “So besides that, we’ve also got Rev Limit, which is like Nitrous but on bikes—”
“Grant says I can be in it!” said Macy happily.
“Then there’s Taking Liberty, kind of a Die Hard in the Statue of Liberty. And a great comedy called First Baby, dunno if I’ll be in it or just producing, but it’s such an awesome concept. Get this: The wife of the president of the USA dies in childbirth, but her last words to him are that he has to promise to raise their kid just like a normal dad. So he takes the baby to cabinet meetings, changes its diapers on Air Force One, that sort of thing. The script’s a scream!”
Nina had no comment, her mouth frozen open. Fortunately, Grant couldn’t see her. “I’m sure it’ll make a fortune,” Eddie said sarcastically on her behalf.
“Yeah, we think so too,” Grant went on blithely. “Anyway, here we are.”
He brought the cart to a stop outside the art deco commissary building. A line of people, some studio workers and others extras in an assortment of costumes, were waiting at the entrance, but he breezed straight past them, signaling for his guests to follow. “We’ve got a table in the dining room,” he told the maître d’ at the doors to one side.
The man nodded obsequiously. “Of course, Mr. Thorn. This way, please.”
Eddie glanced at the large, busy cafeteria into which the queue was heading, then said, “How the other half lives,” as he, Nina, and Macy followed Grant into a more tranquil and expensively decorated space. Large framed posters of the studio’s past successes adorned the walls between the potted palms.
Seated beneath one of the pictures was a heavily tanned little man in his fifties, gray hair cut in a sharp, bristling style that made his head resemble a mahogany-handled shaving brush. He looked up at the new arrivals from behind a pair of oversized sunglasses, then stood to greet them. “Hey, Marv!” said Grant. “This is Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase. And you know Macy already. Nina, Eddie, this is my business partner, Marvin Bronze.”
“Good to meetcha,” said Marvin with a broad Chicago accent. He extended a walnut-brown hand to Eddie and Nina in turn. “Come on, siddown. Let’s eat. And talk.”
The five took their places. A waiter was summoned and orders taken, then conversation began in earnest. “So, Mr. Bronze—” Nina started.
“Marvin, Marvin! We’re all friends here. Hopefully very good ones by the time we’re done.”
“So, Marvin . . . what do you want to talk to us about?”
Marvin and Grant swapped glances, Grant grinning with barely contained anticipation. “I want to talk to you about you!” said the older man.
“Us?” said Eddie. “What about us?”
“You’re big properties!” Marvin proclaimed. “You, Nina, I know a publisher in New York offered you six figures to write a book about all those incredible things you’ve discovered. Like Atlantis and the vault of whatsisname, the Indian guy.”
Nina was startled. “How did you know about that? They haven’t announced it publicly, because I don’t know how long it’ll take to write—and they definitely haven’t gone public about the money side of it.”
He chuckled. “If there’s a deal being made that could lead to a movie, Hollywood knows about it. There’s only one thing they’re short of out here, and that’s ideas. They need a constant flow of new ideas for movies. And the best are the ones that come from real life.” He leaned toward the couple. “Let me lay it out for you. Your lives would make fantastic movies. A whole series of movies, even. You two have got the potential to become a billion-dollar franchise!”
“Yeah, but who’d play me?” Eddie asked while his wife was temporarily dumbstruck. Grant’s smile widened. “What? No! You can’t bloody play me!”
“Nothing’s set yet, dude—but I’ve been practicing the accent. Check this out.” The actor cleared his throat. “Looook art, thurrs a lurd o’ turrorists cooomin’ o’er that ’ill. Boogeration an’ foockry!”
Nina let out an involuntary yelp of laughter. Her husband was less amused. “That’s nothing like me! And it’s not even close to a Yorkshire accent. It’s more like . . . I dunno what the fuck it’s like. A Welsh South African Pakistani Martian, maybe.”
“To be fair, honey,” said Nina, “you can’t do accents either.” By the time Grant had realized the implied criticism of his efforts, she had already turned back to Marvin. “So—you want to buy the movie rights to our lives?”
“No, no,” he replied, shaking his head. “I want to buy the movie rights to the book of your lives. Someone wanted to make a biopic about you, they wouldn’t have to pay you a penny. You’re both public figures.”
“I’m not a public figure,” Eddie objected.
“Your wife is,” Marvin told him, “so you are too. That’s how it works, like it or not. But my way makes it official. Gives the movie the seal of authenticity.”
“But like I said, I don’t know when the book will be finished,” said Nina. “Or even if.” Again Macy picked up on the resignation in her tone; the younger woman’s expression became questioning, but she didn’t interrupt. “And to be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable with Hollywood turning what I do into mass entertainment. I mean, it’s my work—it’s my life! And real people have died on my archaeological expeditions, friends of ours. I don’t like the idea of moments like that being re-created for people to watch while they’re eating popcorn.”
“I understand, believe me,” said Marvin. “But here’s the thing: Like it or not, you are famous, and this is the time to capitalize on it . . . before someone else does. You know how many scripts with the word Atlantis in the title are going around the studios? A dozen at least—and they’re all riding on your back. Ancient myths and legends are big right now, and it’s entirely because of the stuff you’ve dug up over the past few years.”
“I think they were already big without me. I mean, they’ve been in the collective consciousness for thousands of years.”
“That’s just it, though. They’ve been there in the background, with nobody really paying any attention until you came along.” He leaned forward again, hands spread wide. “You know what movies are? They’re our modern-day myths and legends. The difference is that they don’t evolve over time, they’re manufactured, fully formed, like Athena born from the forehead of Zeus.” Noticing Nina’s surprise, he added with a sly smile: “What, just ’cause I’m a Hollywood producer I can’t know my classics? You should see my art collection. I can bore for my country about Dutch Renaissance paintings.”
“Oh, he can, man,” said Grant, pressing fingers to his temple to suppress a headache-inducing memory.
“People believe in movies,” Marvin went on. “And even if what’s up on screen is total bullshit, it still gets taken in.” His gaze became more intense behind his tinted glasses. “Nina, this is your chance to make sure that the story being told on that screen—your story—is true. What do you say?”
Feeling uncomfortably as though she was being bamboozled by an expert, Nina looked to Eddie for advice, but he could only manage an uncertain shrug. “I’ll . . . think about it,” she eventually said.
This seemed to satisfy Marvin for the moment; she was sure he would follow up with more persistence before long. “Good, great,” he said as the waiter approached with their first courses. “Okay, now let’s eat.”