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Authors: Linda Grimes

The Big Fix

BOOK: The Big Fix
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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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This one is for my sister-in-law, Barbara, whose faith in my writing has never wavered, even when mine did.

 

Chapter 1

It’s not that I’m averse to holding on to something long and cylindrical, even if it does wiggle a bit. But when it hisses at me, I get nervous.

Relax,
I told myself.
That snake is probably more afraid of you than you are of it.

Yeah, right,
myself answered, noting the distinctly
un
-afraid reptilian glint in its eyes.
You wish.
(Myself can be an unsympathetic bitch sometimes.)

I inhaled—slowly—fighting the impulse to gulp in air until I hyperventilated and passed out. As much as losing consciousness was starting to seem like an attractive option, it wouldn’t put a paycheck in my wallet.

You need that money, you need that money, you need that money,
I chanted. Mentally, of course. Saying it out loud wouldn’t do a thing to enhance the image I was being paid to project. And paid extremely well, I reminded myself. Better than ever before.

The snake hissed again, its head dancing dangerously close to my own, forked tongue flicking in and out between curved fangs.
Gaaah. You need that money …

(Myself took the opportunity to point out that some things are not worth the payoff. Like I said. Cold. Also,
not
helpful.)

Maybe I could get away with lengthening my arm. Just an inch or two …

The snake stretched.

… or three or four. A foot, tops. Surely no one would notice. At least, not until my sleeve suddenly appeared shorter.
Rats.

“Don’t hold it so close, Jack!” The woman glued to my side whisper-screamed at me through unmoving lips, calling my attention back to her existence. As if her chest pressed hard against my rib cage wasn’t enough of a grabber. If those sweater puppies were real, I’d eat the stupid Indiana Jones knockoff hat I was wearing.

“I’m
try-ing,
” I ventriloquized right back at her, barely audible.

Holding my current self erect (all ruggedly handsome six-foot-three of me, complete with requisite three-day scruff), I tossed the snake into the murky subterranean pit situated within easy falling distance … only to have another one drop immediately onto my shoulder from the ledge above.
Crap.
I squeezed what’s-her-boobs convulsively, but managed not to scream like a girl. Score one for self-control. Maybe I wouldn’t ruin this guy’s reputation after all.

At least the new snake wasn’t as big. That had to be good, right?

The rattle started in the vicinity of my left ear.
Or possibly not …

The new snake’s head swayed in front of us, ominously close to the woman now scrambling to disentangle herself from me. I took a deep breath, grabbed the wiggly bastard by the tail (wondering fleetingly—and perhaps irrelevantly—how one was supposed to tell where a snake’s body leaves off and its tail begins), twirled it twice above our heads, and sent it into the pit to join its buddy, maintaining my cool it’s-all-in-a-day’s-work attitude by the skin of my teeth.

Boobs Galore stopped her escape effort and wilted against me in an orchestrated flood of relieved tears. I’d worry about lipstick stains on my shirt, but I was pretty sure that stuff wouldn’t come off her mouth without an industrial-strength solvent.

“Oooh, Dirk…” she breathed through sexy sobs.

Yeah,
Dirk.
Why was that even a name anymore?

“… Dirk, darling, I would have been dead a hundred times over if it weren’t for you! How can I ever repay you?”

I swallowed, hoping I’d get the next words right. This was the part I’d been dreading even more than the snakes. I’d never forgive myself if I screwed up the one scene I was being paid—and paid well—to pull off for my all-time favorite movie star. My
hero,
for Pete’s sake.

Just say it already.

Gritting my teeth, I forced it out, making sure my gravelly voice oozed the right amount of masculinity. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that, pussycat. I’ll have you out of this hole in two shakes of that rattler’s tail.”

There. That hadn’t sounded too cheesy, had it? Sure, I might not have elevated the schlocky dialogue to the heights Jackson Gunn was capable of, but on the upside, I delivered it without passing out. Which was more than he could have done, given the slithering circumstances. Snake phobias are no joke when you’re billed as the World’s Manliest Man.

“CUT!”

“Thanks a lot, Jack.” The actress (whose name, I now remembered, was Sparky West-Haven—no wonder I’d temporarily blocked it) ducked out from under my arm with a shove to my kidney, and flounced off, puppies bouncing. Huh. Either she wasn’t happy with my performance, or else she wanted to get as far away from any residual snakes as possible.

I was approached—with happy purpose—by the man who’d just yelled, an energetic sixty-something whose Just-For-Men black hair clashed with the Spanish moss he seemed to be growing on his face in lieu of a beard. The director.

“Perfect, Jack! I swear, when that camera is rolling you
are
Dirk fucking Dagger!”

Whew. Chalk one up to panic acting. Also, I know. Dirk
Dagger.
How could Jackson Gunn put up with a character name like that? The man was obviously a saint. (Sure, there are those who think “Jackson Gunn” is almost as bad, but it beat the heck out of his real name. I mean, if my name were Gunther Jackson, I’d transpose and truncate it, too.)

“Thanks,” I said, squaring my perfect replica of Gunn’s chiseled jaw.

My own chin is much more feminine, not to mention typically at least a foot lower, being as I’m usually short, blond, freckled, and female, as opposed to tall, dark, handsome, and male. Sounds strange, I know, but it’s all part of my job as a facilitator.

Ciel Halligan: places to go, people to be. That’s the real me.

See, I fix people’s problems for a living. Not only that, but I do it as
them,
so they get all the credit. I can do that because of a special ability I share with others of my kind—i.e., aura adaptors. A quirky mutation in our genetic makeup allows us to alter our auras to look exactly like someone else. Basically, if I can touch you, I can become you, at least physically. It’s a simple matter of absorbing some of your energy and redirecting it out from me.

Even if I don’t touch you, I can, with enough concentration, manage a remarkably close rendition. But it’s harder, and uses more of my own energy reserves, so I’m not crazy about doing it.

So what do
I
get out of the arrangement? Well, besides giving me the satisfaction of helping others (hey, I’m as altruistic as the next person), it’s also a highly entertaining way to make a living. My job is a lot of things, but boring isn’t one of them.

“Just a few more takes to iron some stuff out,” my gushing director said. “Not you, Jack. Of course. It’s Sparky who needs to tone it down. This isn’t a cartoon, am I right? Anyway, another hour, two tops. Thanks for being such a champ.”

Feeling pretty good about how this job was going, I smiled at his retreating back and pretended I didn’t see the dirty look directed my way by the burly snake handler, who had retrieved his babies and had been crooning to them throughout my kiss-the-star’s-ass convo with the big boss. He came over anyway.

“You didn’t even try to aim for the mattress,” he said, accusation squeezing his voice to a higher pitch than usual.

True enough. I’d been more concerned with getting the writhing, scaly tubes of poison—with
fangs
—the hell away from my face than with their soft landing at the bottom of the fake pit. I mean, sure, they were supposedly milked of their venom before the take, but they could still bite, couldn’t they? I happen to have a strong aversion to having my skin pierced.

“You’re such a dick,” he said when I didn’t deny it, and stalked off, obviously disgusted with me. I wanted to apologize—the guy obviously loved his squirmy pets—but it wouldn’t have been in character. Work rule number one: never break character.

I plopped down on the canvas folding chair emblazoned with “J Gunn,” spelled out in the shape of a pistol. Gotta love those graphic designers. A steaming mug of real coffee appeared in my hand (none of that froufrou foamy crap for
my
hero), courtesy of some wannabe starlet who probably only took the gopher job to get into the building. I avoided meeting her eyes. My job was snakes, not small talk with girls I had nothing to offer.

I scanned the area while the makeup artist powdered my brow and the stylist artfully re-mussed the parts of my hair visible beneath my hat. My best-frenemy-turned-boyfriend, Billy Doyle,
had
to be here somewhere, laughing his ass off at me. I scrutinized a boisterous group of rigging technicians. There was plenty of snickering going on, but none I could swear wasn’t typical of the regulars on the set, so I had to let it go. For now.

Billy had gotten me this gig because I needed the money. I had already turned down his offer of a financial bailout, primarily out of sheer stubbornness. The whole point of me having my own business was to be independent. Sure, I wasn’t above getting a hefty family discount on rent, for both my D.C. condo and office, from my big brother the lawyer (trust me, he can afford it), but taking cash from the guy I was sleeping with? To me that smacked of … um, yeah.

Since I didn’t have another job on the horizon, and some big bills were about to come due, I’d pounced on it when Billy told me about a way I could earn beaucoup bucks
and
get a trip to Hollywood. Stubborn I might be, but I do have a pragmatic side, especially where my business is concerned.

And, you know,
Hollywood.
The opportunity to meet Jackson Gunn—and walk a mile in his legendary shoes—was not to be missed.

Billy sometimes did stunt work for film actors who liked to pretend publicly they were as athletic as the characters they portrayed. Why take the bumps and bruises yourself if somebody else can do it for you? Bonus for me: threatening to tell his mom about it was part of the backup blackmail plan I hold in reserve. Auntie Mo would
kill
him if she knew what kind of risks he took. Of course, I’d probably never be able to use it, because
he
knew stuff that would make
my
mom kill me.

Mutually assured destruction: the glue of any good relationship.

Jackson Gunn had heard about Billy through the golden grapevine—people with money who knew how and where to buy anything they wanted—and approached him with a “little problem.” Seriously, what kind of action hero wanted to admit he couldn’t be around a snake without peeing his pants? He’d be a laughingstock.

A throat cleared beside me. Jackson’s assistant, Frannie. Cute, curvy, and in a rush. This was the first time I’d encountered her in person, but I recognized her easily from her picture in the extensive dossier I had compiled before the job. (I do that with all my clients. No room for screwups in my line of work.)

BOOK: The Big Fix
11.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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