Read an Excerpt
Tony waited. Picked a marshmallow banana out of the bowl.
“Okay, Pam asked for you and CB wouldn’t let me call in even if she hadn’t. Happy?” She shoved the cut sheets up against his chest. “Trucks are there at eleven, shoot by midnight, gone by one and if you believe that, I’ve got some waterfront land going cheap.”
“He led his city through the darkest night toward the dawn.”
Heart slamming against his ribs, Tony jumped forward and spun around, managing to accomplish both movements more or less simultaneously and still stay on his feet. He scowled at the shadowy figure just barely visible at the edge of the streetlight’s circle, knowing that every nuance of his expression could be clearly seen. “Fuck, Henry! You just don’t sneak up on a guy and purr bad cutlines into his ear!”
“Sorry.” Henry stepped into the light, red-gold hair gleaming, full lips curved up into a smile.
Tony knew that smile. It was the one that went along with It’s fun to be a vampire! Which was not only a much better cutline than the one plastered all over the Darkest Night promo package, it was indicative of an almost playful mood—playful as it referred to an undead creature of the night. “Where did you park?”
“Don’t worry; I’m well out of the way.”
“Cops give you any hassle?”
The smile changed slightly and Henry shoved his hands into the pockets of his oiled-canvas trenchcoat. “Do they ever?”
Tony glanced down the road to where a pair of constables from the Burnaby RCMP detachment stood beside their cruiser. “You didn’t, you know, vamp them?”
“Do I ever?”
“Not this time.”
“Good. Because they’re already a little jumpy.” He nodded toward the trucks and, when Henry fell into step beside him, wet dry lips and added, “Everyone’s a little jumpy.”
“I don’t know. Night shoot, moderately dangerous stunt, an explosion . . . pick one.”
“You don’t believe it’s any of those reasons.”
Tony glanced over at Henry. “You asking?”
“Not really, no.”
Before he could continue, Tony waved a cautioning hand and continued the movement down to pull his walkie-talkie from the holster on his belt. “Yeah, Pam?” One finger pushed his ear jack in a little deeper. “Okay, I’m on it. I’ve got go see when Daniel’s due out of makeup,” he told Henry as he reholstered. “You okay here?”
Henry looked pointedly around. “I think I’ll be safe enough.”
“Just . . .”
“Stay out of the way. I know.” Henry’s smile changed yet again as he watched Tony hurry off toward the most distant of the studio’s three trailers. In spite of the eyebrow piercing, he looked, for lack of a better word, competent. Like he knew exactly what he was doing. It was what Henry came to night shoots to see—Tony living the life he’d chosen and living it well. It made letting him go a little easier.
Not that he had actually let go.
Letting go was not something Henry did well. Or, if truth be told, at all.
But within this small piece of the night, they could both pretend that he was nothing more than the friend he appeared to be.
He made his living writing the kind of books that allowed women—and the occasional man—to pretend for 400 odd pages that they lived a life of romance and adventure, but this, these images captured and manipulated and then spoon-fed to the masses as art, this was pretense without imagination. He’d never had to actually blow up a BMW in order for his readers to imagine a car accident.
Television caused imagination to atrophy.
His upper lip pulled back off his teeth as he watched the director laying out the angles of the explosion for the camera operator.
Television substituted for culture.
The feel of watching eyes turned him to face a middle-aged woman standing beside the craft services table, a coffee clutched between both hands, her gaze locked on his face, her expression asking, What are you?
Henry pulled his masks back into place and only then, only when he presented a face that spoke of no danger at all, did he turn away. The woman had been curious, not afraid, and would easily convince herself that she’d been asking who are you? not what. No harm had been done, but he’d have to be more careful. Tony was right. Everyone was a little jumpy tonight.
His nostrils flared as he tested the air. He could smell nothing except . . .
. . . a chemical fire retardant.
“This is Daniel. He’s our stunt coordinator and he’ll be crashing the car tonight.”
Henry took the callused hand offered and found himself studying a man not significantly taller than his own five six. Given that Tony was five ten, the stunt coordinator could be no more than five eight. Not exactly what Henry had expected.
“Daniel also does all the stunt work for Mason and for Lee,” Tony continued. “They almost never get blown up together.”
“I’m pretty much the entire department,” Daniel admitted, grinning as he brushed a bit of tangled wig back off his face. “We can’t afford to blow them up together. Tony says you’re a writer. Television?”
“No shit? My wife used to write porn, but with all the free stuff out on the web these days there’s no money in it so she switched back to writing ad copy. Now, if you’ll both excuse me, I’ve got to go make sure I’ll survive tonight’s pyrotechnics.” He sketched a salute and trotted across the road to a parked BMW.
“Seems like a nice guy,” Henry said quietly.
“There’s free porn on the web?”
Tony snorted, his elbow impacting lightly with Henry’s side. “Stop it.”
“So what’s going to happen?”
“Daniel, playing the part of a car thief . . .”
Eyes narrowed, Henry stared across the road. “Whose head is being devoured by a distant relative of Cthulhu.”
“Apparently that’s what happens when you soak dreadlocks in fire retardant.”
“And the size?”
“The wig’s glued to a helmet.”
“You’re kidding me?”
“Yeah, that’s what our hairdresser said.” Tony’s shrug suggested the hairdresser had been significantly more vocal. “Anyway, he’s going to drive the beemer along this stretch of road until he swerves to miss an apparition of evil . . .”
“I don’t think the writers have decided what it actually is yet, but don’t worry, the guys in post always come through.”
“I’m actually more concerned that this vampire detective of yours drives a BMW.”
“Well, he won’t after tonight, so that’s okay. So Daniel swerves to miss this apparition and the car flips, rolls, and bang!”
“Cars don’t blow up that easily.” Henry’s pale hand sketched a protest on the night as Daniel slid behind the wheel.
“Explosions make better television.”
“It makes no logical sense.”
“Now, you’re getting it.” Tony’s face went blank for a moment, then he bent and picked up the fire extinguisher he’d set at his feet. “Looks like we’re ready to go.”
“And you’re . . .”
“Not actually doing anything while we’re shooting since we’ve got Mounties blocking the road, so I’m part of the safety crew. And as long as you’re not planning on telling the union . . .”
“I’m not talking to your union as much as I used to.”
He could feel Tony staring at him but he kept his gaze on the car.
“You’re in a weird mood tonight. Is it . . .? ”
Henry shook his head, cutting off the question. He didn’t know what it was.
He wasn’t entirely certain it was anything at all.
Everyone was jumpy.
The car backed up.
A young woman called scene and take, then smacked the top down on a piece of blackboard in front of the closer of the two cameras. About fifteen people, including Tony, yelled, “Rolling,” for no reason Henry could immediately determine since the director’s voice had carried clearly over the entire location.
The car began to speed up.
When they finished with it in editing, it would look as though it was racing down Lakefield Drive. Considering that Daniel was driving toward a certain crash, it was moving fast enough.
A squeal of brakes just before the outside tires swerved onto the ramp.
Grip tightening on the fire extinguisher, Tony braced for an impact even though he knew there was nothing there.
Except . . .
Darkness lingered on the other side of the ramp.
An asinine observation given that it was the middle of the night and the darkness had nowhere else to go. Except . . . it seemed darker. Like the night had thickened just in that spot.
I must’ve inhaled more accelerant than I thought.
The darkness seemed to be half in the car although logically, if the darkness existed at all, the car should have been halfway through it.
The impact of steel against asphalt as the car hit and rolled was always louder than expected. Tony jerked and winced as glass shattered and the BMW finally skidded to a stop on its roof.
“Keep rolling!” That was Pam’s voice. “Arra, what the hell’s going on?”
There shouldn’t be flames, not yet.
Daniel wasn’t out of the car.
Couldn’t get out of the car, Tony realized as he started to run.
He felt more than saw Henry speed by him and by the time he arrived by the driver’s side door, the crumpled metal was screaming a surrender as the door opened. Dropping down to one knee, he allowed Daniel to grab onto his shoulder and, backing up, dragged him from the car and out through the billowing smoke.
The rest of the safety crew arrived as the stunt co-coordinator gained his feet, free hand waving away any additional help. He stared at the car for a long moment, brow furrowed under the masking dreadlocks then he visibly shook it off. “Goddamned fucking door jammed! Everyone back off and let it blow.”
“Daniel . . .”
“Don’t worry about it, Tony. I’m fine.” Guiding the younger man away from the car, he raised his voice, “I said, let it blow!”
The explosion was, as all Arra’s explosions were, perfect. A lot of flash, not much smoke, the car outlined within the fire.
For a heartbeat, the shadows held their ground against the flames. A heartbeat later, they fled.
And a heartbeat beyond that, Tony glanced away from the wreck to find Henry beside him, smelling of accelerant. “He was muttering about something touching him. Something cold.”
The vampire nodded.
“Something touched him before you got there?”
Henry glanced down at his hands. “I didn’t touch him. He didn’t even know I was there.”
The light from the fire painted the night orange and gold as far back as the director’s monitors. It looked as though Daniel, helmet in his hands, sweat plastering his short hair to his head, was telling Pam what happened. Leaving Henry staring at the burning car, Tony headed for the craft services table—well within eavesdropping range.
“. . . hardly see the end of the ramp, then I could hardly see at all. I thought it might be some kind of weird fog except it came with me when I rolled.”
“I didn’t see anything.”
“I didn’t exactly see anything either,” Daniel pointed out acerbically. “That’s kind of my point.”
Tony waited for him to mention the touch. He didn’t.
“It was probably just the fumes from the fire retardant affecting my eyes.”
It sounded like a pact. An agreed-upon explanation.
Because what else could it have been?
As Daniel moved away, Arra came into view behind Pam’s shoulder. She looked terrified.
Not for Daniel.
Not about the part of the stunt that had nearly gone wrong.
Given her expression, Tony’d be willing to bet serious money that she’d forgotten both Daniel and the stunt.
Tony found himself quietly murmuring, “Apparition of evil,” as Pam finally yelled “Cut!” and Daniel’s crew moved in with the fire extinguishers.