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By Don Bruns
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2013 Don Bruns
All rights reserved.
"Sometimes it's just stupid to do your own stunts." The director let out a long sigh, shaking his head. He looked at me and said, "We've got stunt guys who can do this jump with their eyes closed, so why the hell does this prima donna think he should do it himself? Damned actors. Life would be a lot simpler without them."
And you'd be out of a job, I thought.
Randy Roberts pointed at the steel scaffolding that in the last two days had sprung up around the outdoor soundstage. Seventy feet above us in the full hot sun of a Miami morning, a male actor paced back and forth on the metal framework. The same actor Roberts was railing against. The man would stop, spread his arms like a bird on the wing, then put them down and pace again. Two grips stood on the grating, watching the scene unfold.
Roberts clutched his aluminum coffee mug, nodding to me. "Big Hollywood star, hotshot likes to be able to say he never uses a stuntman. So the risk goes up, we pay a whole lot more for insurance, we've got to have a medical team on hand —" He glanced at the green-and-white ambulance parked in the grass just a few feet away. Two uniformed medics were looking up, waiting for the big moment.
Once again, the actor paused, spreading his arms, looking beyond the sparse crew that was anticipating the shot. The set was guarded, protected from passersby, but a handful of actors, security people, and staff were around to witness the event. After all, the jumper was Jason Londell.
"The bag's fully inflated?" Roberts shouted to a young man dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, and sporting a scruffy beard.
"Checked it five minutes ago."
"Jesus, I wish he'd use a double."
Again he directed his statement to me, as if to overly convince me that he wanted to put a halt to this madness.
Randy Roberts had no idea who I was. I just happened to be the closest person standing next to him, and he was venting his frustration. Squinting as he gazed at the scene high above us, he wiped at the sweat on his face with the sleeves of his shirt. It was only nine a.m., but sweat trickled down the big man's cheeks and his denim shirt had dark circles under the armpits.
Under his breath he muttered, "If I'd slept with the right people in this business, I'd be a lot further ahead."
Always having heard that women slept their way to the top, I found it a strange statement coming from the male director.
My understanding of the shot was that it was to be quick. It was only going to take three or four seconds. Londell was to run a few steps on the scaffolding, turn his head looking behind himself, and dive off, landing safely on the soft cushion of a tethered air bag inflated with helium fifty feet below. The bag was weighted down and so big, I assumed it was an easy target. But what do I know? I get dizzy looking out over a second-story balcony.
A cinematographer with a large, handheld camera was perched on the catwalk, waiting to capture the action, and another camera mounted to a tripod was about thirty feet from me to get a second angle as the body plummeted to the ground.
Roberts spoke in measured tones, his wireless microphone transmitting to Londell's earpiece.
"Okay, Jason, run, look over your shoulder, then stop. Let's do it at least three times so we get the angles right. I don't think either of us wants you to do the jump multiple times."
From above, the actor nodded.
The camera guy on the scaffolding crouched down, shooting up at Londell.
Londell was jogging, not going at any great speed, but there was only maybe thirty feet of room to run. And besides, that metal walkway was very narrow.
The actor glanced over his shoulder and pulled up short.
"Camera one, you set? Ground camera?"
Roberts wiped the sweat from his forehead, pushed his sleeves up even higher on his thick arms, and once again spoke to Londell.
"Okay, Jason, let's try it again. Cameras will roll, but it's just a dry run."
Roberts took a swig of his coffee, rumored to always be laced with a healthy dose of brandy, and nodded.
"Camera one," he paused, his eyes glued to a screen in front of him. On that screen I could see the actor above, ready for his run. "Shoot this one. Okay. Action."
Londell ran, faster than before, almost sprinting, and there was no furtive glance over his shoulder this time. Looking up I watched him veer slightly to his right, throw his hands in the air and leap from the scaffolding, the sun glaring off the metal framework, and for a moment I was blinded. I blinked, not believing I'd actually witnessed the jump, and saw the body, plunging to the earth.
There were shrieks and a wild scattering of the support staff as Jason Londell hurled through the air. The screams grew in intensity when his body slammed into the ground with a sickening thud, roughly twenty yards from where the giant air bag waited.CHAPTER 2
I've seen dead bodies, bodies that had been shot, bodies that had been knifed, but I'd never witnessed something as gruesome as this. It appeared the movie star had exploded from the impact. His head was cracked open, and I could see blood and what I could only imagine was gray brain matter. Londell's eyes were open and one orb was dangling out of its socket. Landing on his front, his rib cage seemed to be splayed from the impact and his arms and legs were bent in unnatural positions, white broken bones protruding from gashes in the skin.
Running to the scene with some sort of portable respirator, the two medics bent over the actor, poking and prodding, apparently not convinced that he was deceased. Almost in a trance, I moved into position to do my job. Keep the bystanders at bay.
I'm Skip Moore, and my partner, James Lessor, and I have a private detective firm called More or Less Investigations. We were on the set of the television series Deadline Miami.
Jason Londell is, or was, an A-list movie actor who had agreed to play a walk-on for one episode, but only one, due to his commitment to the movie industry. He was currently shooting two feature films in California and, with a very small window of opportunity, he was able to fly to Miami and do a favor for his good friend Clint Anders, the producer of DM.
How do I know this? I'm not a celebrity stalker but, as a private investigator who is taking every opportunity to make a buck, James and I are listed in the phone book. When the Anders people found More or Less Investigations in the Yellow Pages, they sent us a letter explaining that they would be requiring some private security during two episodes of the show. James immediately jumped at the chance.
So we're part of a security team. Providing some safety for the actors. Our glamorous job is to keep street people on Bay Shore Drive out of the park where these episodes of Deadline Miami are being filmed.
We get such comments as, "It's my damned park. I live in this city." Or, "I'm going in, and I'd like to see you stop me." And the perennial, "I pay taxes here, asshole." Actually, a lot of the people to whom we'd denied access probably didn't earn enough money to pay taxes. And several of them were panhandlers and, while they probably made more than James and I combined, they didn't pay taxes either.
Along with five other security people, we try our best to protect the set during filming.
In a matter of minutes from the time of Londell's jump, the cops had shown up, the photographers had been there, we were interviewed, and everyone who'd witnessed the event was still shell-shocked.
"We'd like for all of you to stay around for a couple of hours," a tall, lanky detective with a Texas drawl held up his hand and addressed the staff that was still mingling in the area. "Please. There will be more questions, and even though you saw what you saw, we need to have a thorough investigation. Cause of death has yet to be determined. It may take a while to ascertain," he paused, almost pleased with the word ascertain, "the cause of death."
Just what I needed. More questions about the terrible scene we'd all been subjected to. Jason Londell's body crashing to the ground. Blood, bones, and brain in a twisted, gruesome tableau.
The medical team had driven off with Londell in a body bag, and I was never going to get that vision out of my head. The screams from those assembled as the actor vaulted into the air, his arms spread wide, and the sickening thud as his body crashed to the ground. I was sure his broken body was going to be a permanent, horrible memory for everyone who saw it.
James had the morning off and wasn't expected to return until later, but the way stories go viral in Miami, I felt certain he'd come back fully briefed.
I smelled her perfume before I saw her, and right away I knew who she was.
"Oh, my God, James—"
"Whatever," she grabbed my arm and sobbed, "this can't be real. He was about to — oh, my God."
"What? About to what?" Confess to a crime? Announce that he was retiring from the movie business?
"I think he was about to propose." The bosomy Ashley Amber was shaking, and even though I thought of her as an opportunist with little talent, the actress's emotions seemed sincere. "Do you believe that? He —" she shut down for a moment, finally raising her head and whispering, "He loved me. He told me last night. We were really connecting, and for him to jump, it just makes no sense."
So the two of them were dating. That was a good enough reason for him to fly to Miami, especially since Deadline Miami was picking up the bill and giving him a paycheck as well.
"I'm really sorry, Ashley."
"James," she paused, collecting herself, "do you have any idea what this means? Oh, my God."
As she hugged me, her ample chest pressed into my arm. I'd actually seen her nude in a Jonah Hill movie and felt like I knew those breasts intimately. It was all I could do to keep my focus on the dead body of Jason Londell.
"The name is Skip, and I do," I said. It meant that if he really was going to propose, they wouldn't be spending their lives, in this life, together.
"Pard, what the hell?"
A slightly out of breath James Lessor was actually jogging up to us.
"I just heard it from one of the cooks over at the food tent. So where were you when this happened?"
I pointed to the top of the scaffolding. "They were getting ready to film the jump scene. I was standing over there with Randy Roberts. It was surreal, James. I'll play that over in my head for years."
"What about the inflated bag? I thought this guy knew the ropes. I mean, we were told that —"
"James, he was out of sequence. Roberts called for three takes before Londell jumped. I heard him tell Londell exactly that, 'three takes before you actually jump.' He jumped on the second take. And he had no intention of hitting that bag. He landed a good twenty yards from his goal."
"You saw it? God, Skip. I can't imagine." James nodded to Ashley, acknowledging her for the first time. Her face was wet with her tears, and I hugged her, not wishing this on anyone.
"He called me last night," she said, her brown eyes looking into mine.
"And?" James, trying for some clarity.
"He was concerned about the scene."
"Today's scene? The jump?" I asked.
"What was the concern?"
She brushed her face with the back of her hand. Sniffing and choking on her words, she said, "He is always concerned when he's doing a dangerous stunt."
I felt like telling her what Roberts had said. The company had qualified doubles to do the jump. He didn't need to put himself on the line.
"But the worst thing was —" she paused, looking up at the two men heading toward us.
Bill Purdue, head of our security team, walked up with a tall man in a plain white shirt and loosened blue tie, his sleeves rolled up and aviator sunglasses perched on his nose.
"Detective Hawk, this is Skip Moore. He was on the scene when Londell jumped. Right, Moore?"
I nodded. The hot Miami day was soaring into the nineties, and I could feel heat cooking every inch of my skin.
Hawk flipped on a palm-sized recorder.
"What's your job, Mr. Moore?"
"I sell security systems in Carol City." I don't make many sales and I don't make much money, but it's supposedly my fulltime job. I was taking time off for this gig, but in three or four days I'd be back knocking on people's doors, suggesting they may want to buy a system that would secure their meager possessions.
He glanced at Purdue, seemingly puzzled.
"He's temporary." Purdue pointed to James. "He and his friend Lessor keep gawkers away from the set. They do some driving for the actors and act as sort of a buffer between the crew and people on the street. When we're shooting outside, like in this park, we need extra security because we're basically wide open to anyone who wants to approach us."
Hawk nodded. He glanced at Ashley. "And you are Ashley Amber." There was a glimmer in his eye, as if he was secretly, or not so secretly, pleased that he was interviewing a starlet.
She nodded, brushing at her hair with her fingers.
"Londell called this young lady last night," James said.
Ashley finally let go of my arm, wiping at her damp face.
"You talked to him?"
"I did. He was worried about the jump today."
"And that was the discussion you had with the deceased?"
Life is obviously fleeting. Two hours had passed and someone who was a living, breathing human soul was now referred to as "the deceased."
"So you were close to the actor?"
She took a shaky breath.
"We were dating."
"I will need to talk to you in private, Miss Amber. Questions that may be of a —" he glanced at James and me through the dark lenses, "— of a personal nature. I assume you have some time."
Turning off the recorder, he turned to Purdue.
"You can contact these people if I need to talk to them again?" he asked.
"Thank you for your cooperation." Hawk and Purdue walked away with Ashley Amber. The same Ashley Amber who had said, not two minutes ago, "and the worst thing is —"
"Suicide?" James said the word and it almost made me sick.
I'd been nauseous several times that day.
"I don't see how it was anything else," I said. Two grips and a camera guy on the scaffolding, a camera down below. Both of the cameras filming the rehearsal, even though it wasn't supposed to be a final take. They would show exactly what I saw. Londell was out of control, failing to follow the director's dictate. And the leap seemed to me to be totally deliberate.
"Damn, amigo, this guy must have had some serious issues. But what a colorful way to exit. This will be page one on every news outlet in the country. Maybe the world. Academy Award Winner Leaps To Death. Too bad he's not going to be around to read his own reviews."
"But we don't have an answer as to why. Why he jumped, took the plunge."
"You know, Skip, I'd love to have an answer. But we weren't hired to solve the crime; just provide security."CHAPTER 3
Three in the morning I heard the tapping at our on-location Airstream trailer door. James grunted, rolled over, and resumed snoring. In my boxer shorts, I swung out of my bed, walked the five steps to the entrance, flipped on the light outside, and opened the door. I was staring into the pale face of Ashley Amber, wrapped in a striped blanket, or maybe a serape, her tired eyes staring into mine, hands clutching a designer purse in front of her.
"Whatever. I need help."
"Okay." I was groggy, not sure where this was going. It appeared she'd been crying, but I didn't feel comfortable prying for information.
"The police, they had a lot of questions. They wanted to know how close we were, what I knew about his life away from the movie business. They wanted to know —"
"Ashley, when they took you in for questioning, you were in the middle of a sentence. You were talking about your possible engagement and you said —"
"I know what I said. I said, 'the worst thing was.' "
"And you want to know what the worst thing was?"
"I'm a private investigator. It's part of what I do. I ask questions."
"The worst thing was — and I haven't told the police this — when he told me he was concerned about the jump, he said he'd been receiving threatening e-mails."
Excerpted from Reel Stuff by Don Bruns. Copyright © 2013 Don Bruns. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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