Lucy Armstrong was on the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge surveying the mess she’d just taken charge of when she spotted the black helicopter coming at her through the sunset.
Based on the rest of her day, that wasn’t going be good.
Twenty feet to her right, her assistant director, Gleason Bloom, ignored the chopper and worked the set like a depraved grasshopper, trying to organize what Lucy had already recognized as her career’s most apathetic movie crew.
Twenty feet to her left, shielded from everybody else by his black van, the movie’s stunt coordinator, Connor Nash, argued with a sulky-looking brunette who stood close to him, her arms folded.
The fact that Gloom hadn’t seen Connor yet was a minor miracle–thank God for that van–but the fact that Lucy hadn’t told him that Connor was the stunt coordinator was a major screw-up. I’ll just point out that it’s only four days, she thought. Four lousy days for really good money, we check on Daisy and Pepper, we finish up somebody else’s movie, we go home, no harm, no foul–
Off to the west, the helicopter grew closer, flying very low, just above the winding Savannah River. All around were brush and trees, garnished with swamp and probably full of predators. ‘The low country’ Connor had called it, as if that was a good thing instead of a euphemism for ‘soggy with a chance of alligator.’ And now a helicopter. What the hell? Lucy thought and then she heard “Aunt Lucy !” and rocked back as fifty-some pounds of five-year-old niece smacked into her legs at top speed, knocking her off balance.
“Pepper!” She went down to her knees, inhaling the Pepper smell of Twizzlers and Fritos and Johnson’s No Tears Baby Shampoo as she hugged the little girl to her, trying to avoid the binoculars strung around Pepper’s neck. “I am so glad to see you!” she said, rocking her back and forth.
Pepper pulled away, her blonde Dutch boy hair cut swinging back from her round, beaming face as she held onto Lucy, her little fingers biting into Lucy’s arms. “We will have such a good time now that you’re here. We will play Barbies and watch videos and I will tell you about my Animal of the Month and we will have a party!” Her plain little face was lit with ecstasy. “It will be so, so good!” She threw her arms around Lucy’s neck again and strangled her with another hug, smashing the binoculars into Lucy’s collarbone.
“Yes,” Lucy said, trying to breathe, avoid the binoculars, and hug back at the same time, thinking, Great, now I have to play with Barbies. She pulled back a little to get some air and said, “Nice binoculars!” as she tried to keep from getting smacked with them again.
“Connor gave them to me,” Pepper said. “I can see everything with them.”
“Good for Connor.” Lucy looked back up to the west to see the helicopter cut across a bend in the river, zipping right through an impossibly small opening between two looming oak trees. It’s heading right for us, she thought, and whoever is flying that thing is crazy, and then Connor raised his voice and said, ” No, and that’s final ,” and she looked over to see the young brunette step up into his face, giving as nasty as she got.
Lucy thought, Good for you, too, honey , and stood up, smiling at Pepper. “But I have to work first, so–”
“I will help you work,” Pepper said, clinging to her, her smile turning tense. “I will be your assistant and bring you apples and water.”
Lucy nodded. “You will be a huge help.” She took the little girl’s hand and looked back at Connor. After kicking herself for twelve years for having been so stupid as to marry him, looking at those broad shoulders and slim hips now reminded her why her brain had gone south when she was twenty-two. Good thing I’m smarter now, she thought, and looked again.
The way he was talking to the brunette, the way she leaned into his comfort zone, they were sleeping together. And she looked to be about twenty-two.
That must be his target age, she thought. I should tell Gloom that, he’d laugh.
Gloom. She looked back toward the roadway that arched up toward the center of the very high bridge and didn’t see him, but the helicopter was now zipping underneath one of the port cranes, then banking hard toward the bridge. Lucy shook her head, trying not to be impressed. The pilot probably had Top Gun in permanent rotation on his DVD player. Whatever happened to the strong, silent type?
“Aunt Lucy?” Pepper said, her smile gone, her face much too worried for a five-year-old.
“You’ll be a huge help,” Lucy said, hastily. ” Huge. Now, where is your mama– Ouch! ”
Her head snapped back as Gloom came up behind her and yanked on her long black braid. ” Connor Nash ,” he said, and she dropped Pepper’s hand and grabbed the base of her braid to take the pressure off her skull.
“Yeah.” Lucy tried to pry her braid out of his hand. “I was going to mention that.”
“Really? When ?”
“As late in the game as possible. Which appears to be now.”
“What were you thinking ?” Gloom said, glaring at her, his gawky form looming beside her.
“Gloom?” Pepper said, and he looked down and let go of Lucy’s braid.
“Peppermint!” He picked her up, swooshing her up to his six-foot five and almost getting beaned by her binoculars as he smacked a kiss on her cheek.
Pepper giggled, happy again, and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I am so glad you are here,” she said, strangling him. “We will have a party.”
“You bet,” Gloom said, peeling one of her arms away from his windpipe. “Tell you what, go get your mama and tell her we need to make plans. There will have to be a cake–”
” Yes! ” Pepper said, and tried to wriggle her way to the ground. Gloom set her down, and she was off like a shot, blonde hair flying and binoculars bouncing as she headed for the craft services table set up near Connor’s van, the source of apples and candy and water bottles and, evidently, her mother.
Lucy frowned up at the sky. “We didn’t order a hel–”
Gloom yanked her braid again.
” Ouch. Stop that.”
“Now about that Aussie bastard,” Gloom said.
Down the bridge, Connor looked up at them, distracted by the commotion. He saw her for the first time and his face lit up– God, he’s beautiful, Lucy thought–and then he started up the bridge to her.
“Connor called and offered us an obscene amount of money to finish this thing and I said no,” Lucy said talking fast, so that Gloom wouldn’t say, “Hello, dickhead,” when Connor reached them.
The brunette went after Connor, catching his arm and he stopped and tried to shake her off. Whoops, Lucy thought. Was sleeping with, not is.
Gloom’s dark brows met over his nose. “If you said, no, why–”
“And then Daisy called and said to please come down because we hadn’t seen her and Pepper in so long and I said no, I’d send her the money to come visit us . . .”
The brunette held on, but Connor yanked free, making her stumble back as he came up the bridge, oblivious to the chopper closing in on them, his eyes on Lucy, everything in him focused completely on his objective.
And that’s why I married you, Lucy thought.
” So why are we here ?” Gloom said.
“Because Daisy put Pepper on the phone and I told he we weren’t coming and she cried.” Lucy switched her attention back to Gloom. “Pepper’s not a crier, you know that, Gloom, but I understand that you hate Connor, so you go tell Pepper we’re not staying. Meanwhile, I’ll explain to Connor why he’ll be directing these last four days himself instead of paying us a small fortune to do what we can do in our sleep.”
“What?” Gloom said and turned to follow her eyes and saw Connor. “Oh, fuck.”
“Be nice,” Lucy said. “He –”
She broke off as the bubble shaped helicopter suddenly gained altitude and swooped over the closest tall bridge tower, sharp against the red sun, at what seemed much too fast a speed. Connor stopped and looked up at it, startled, and then got an odd look on his face, anger or surprise or both, she couldn’t tell.
Gloom stepped closer to her as the chopper dove to the middle of the bridge and abruptly slowed, coming to perfect hover just to the east, well out of the way of the cables that lined the roadway, and then pirouetted smoothly so that the bubble shaped front was facing the bridge as it moved sideways toward them and the ground. Pepper came running back from craft services to say, ” Wow ,” as the chopper touched down lightly next to the roadway.
“There’s no helicopter on the shooting schedule,” Gloom said, frowning. “And that one has–is that a machinegun?”
Lucy peered at the ugly looking contraption bolted to the right skid. “I think so.” She bent to pick up Pepper. “I don’t think it’s on Connor’s schedule either. Look at him.”
Connor’s shoulders were set as he reversed direction and headed for the chopper, walking past the brunette without even acknowledging she was there until she grabbed his arm again. Honey, never interrupt him when he’s on a mission, Lucy thought and looked back at the helicopter.
A man got out, ignoring the blades whooping by just over his head, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped in Army camouflage with none of Connor’s electricity or glossy good looks, just tan and solid in the middle of the noise and wind. He walked forward out of rotor-range and halted to look back at the chopper, his lantern jaw in profile, completely still in the chaos.
“Impressive,” Lucy said, thinking, Oh, my, but trying to sound detached. “Tell me that’s my action star.”
Another man dressed in jeans, a black t-shirt and flip-flops got out of the copter on the other side, tripping over the skid and then ducking almost to a crawl as he stumbled out from underneath the blades. Then he stood up and joined the quiet man on the edge of the road, swaggering as he went.
” That’s your star,” Gloom said. “Bryce McKay. World famous comedian. Great at pratfalls. Action? Not so much.”
“Wonderful,” Lucy said, but her eyes went back to the quiet man, so much like Bryce physically, so much his opposite in every other way. Anybody that Zen calm, that unmoving, had to have his act together.
Connor shook off the brunette who was yammering at him again, and moved down the bridge to the helicopter, his focus on the newcomer, his hands out at his sides. Hell, Lucy thought. He’s already gunning for this guy.
The quiet man turned to face him. Connor stiffened, and the other man stared back, not moving.
“Great,” Lucy said. “And they’re both thinking, ‘Mine’s bigger than yours. ‘”
“I love this,” Gloom said, sounding almost cheerful again. “It’s like High Noon. Maybe somebody will finally out-draw that son of a bitch.”
“Yeah, that would be good except this is real life, not a western,” Lucy said, exasperated. “Why don’t they just pull them out and show them to each other?”
“Pull out what?” Pepper said.
“Their binoculars.” Lucy put the little girl down. “I have to go see what’s going on, baby. You wait here with Gloom.”
“I want to come,” Pepper said, her smile gone.
“Oh, I do, too.” Gloom picked up Pepper. “I think this is going to be my party.”
“Try to control your joy,” Lucy said and headed down the bridge to contain the disaster.
Captain J. T. Wilder stood as still as possible in deference to his screaming hangover, looked around at what he’d figured was going to be a good deal, and thought, Clusterfuck .
Beside him, Bryce McKay, Wilder’s cross to bear, shouted to be heard over the whine of the copter’s engine and the whoop of the blades: “This is what a real movie set looks like. Well, usually there are more people.”
A real movie set looked like a mess to Wilder, although that was not something he was going to share with Bryce since he wanted to keep his new temporary job. Play nice, he thought. Do the man’s stunts for him. Make lots of money . Then get the hell out of Dodge. He heard the engine on the ‘Little Bird’ start to shut down and winced, knowing his second cross to bear was going to get out of the chopper and hang around, which had not been in the plan.
Wilder’s attention focused on the pissed-off-looking ex-military guy heading their way, a scowling young brunette following him. The guy had a gun, a big one, resting on his hip in, of all things, a quick-draw rig, something Wilder hadn’t seen anywhere outside of, well, a movie. So he guessed that made sense, although Bryce hadn’t said anything about this being a Western.
Wilder’s buddy LaFavre came up after shutting down the chopper, surveyed the scene from behind his aviator sunglasses, and said, “Circle jerk.”
Wilder nodded. “That, too.”
“What, Major LaFavre?” Bryce said anxiously and Wilder almost felt sorry for him. The poor guy had been trying to buy LaFavre’s beat-up flight jacket for the past two hours on the flight from Fort Bragg and getting nowhere, then he’d gotten airsick when LaFavre had played chicken with the crane, and now he wanted to bond. Not going to happen .
“Nice day,” LaFavre said.
“Yeah.” Bryce nodded.
“You can go now,” Wilder said to LaFavre under his breath, regretting his drunken call to LaFavre the night before to have him fly up to Bragg and fetch them down here .
“Not yet. I came to see the actresses,” LaFavre said, cheerful as ever. “Would that be one?” He nodded toward the pissed-off brunette who’d caught the arm of the guy with the gun.
“No idea,” Wilder said. The brunette looked like the kind of woman who was always pissed off, the kind of woman who sucked the life out of a man. Angel of Death, Wilder thought and almost felt sorry for the guy with the gun who wasn’t getting away from her any time soon.
“Perhaps I should introduce myself,” LaFavre said, and Wilder shook his head and then winced.
“No, you should not. Good-bye.” His hangover was getting worse. If he could get rid of LaFavre, shut Bryce up, and defuse the dickhead with the gun, he could find out what they needed him to do, do it, get paid, take some aspirin and go to bed. “Who’s the guy with the gun?” he asked Bryce.
“That’s Connor Nash, our stunt coordinator. Connor planned all the stunts and picked the bridge. Isn’t this bridge great?” Bryce gestured to the steel suspension cables above them. “It’s won awards and stuff. It’s going to look awesome on film when the helicopter comes down.”
“You’re going to land a helicopter on this bridge?” Wilder looked up at the cables on either side and the light poles along the center and then glanced at LaFavre.
LaFavre shook his head. “Have to be a real hotshot pilot to get a chopper down on that roadway without doing a major crash and burn. If you fast rope in, you can’t get back out unless you use STABO, and even that will be touch and go with the limited space between the cables. Hate to get a STABO line caught in one of those cables. Take out the man and the chopper.”
Wilder knew LaFavre had lost Bryce even though the actor was nodding his head as if he completely understood.
“But they’re not going to land it,” Bryce said. “They’re just going to bring it in low enough so that the bad guys can put the loot into the cargo net that hangs underneath it. Nash has it all storyboarded out.”
“What kind of chopper are you using?” LaFavre asking, keeping one eye on the brunette, probably in case she took her sweater off.
“A Huey,” Bryce said, clearly proud he knew the name.
“Well, hell, boy, forget the net and just load it in the Huey. Damn things are big. Not that you’re ever going to get it down on this bridge.” LaFavre nodded at brunette, who was glaring after the guy with the gun–Nash–as he headed for them again, looking mad as hell. “She ever been in the movies?”
“No,” Bryce said. “So they wouldn’t have a cargo net?”
He sounded crushed, so Wilder tried for damage control. “They’d need one if they had a lot of people in the Huey. Five or six–” He stopped because Bryce was shaking his head.
“Only one. The head bad guy kills the others.”
“Dumb bad guy,” LaFavre said. “So you got any actresses around here?”
“I’ll have to check with Nash on this cargo net thing,” Bryce said in a low voice, sounding worried.
Yeah, Wilder thought. Tell him the cargo net isn’t right. That’s going to make me popular. He jerked his head, trying to signal LaFavre to leave, but the pilot missed it, staring down the bridge past Nash, who’d stopped a good ten feet away, his jaw set.
“What the hell is this?” Nash said, and Wilder almost winced when he heard the Australian accent. Made him think of beer commercials.
Bryce said, “Hey, Connor! Meet Captain J. T. Wilder and Major Rene LaFavre. Guys, this is Connor Nash, you know, I told you, he’s our stunt coordinator?” He sounded like an anxious puppy, looking from Wilder to Nash and back again.
Wilder nodded, and Connor Nash’s head twitched, not quite a nod, which Wilder took to mean, in addition to the furious look on his face and his tense body language, that he wasn’t happy to see him.
Bryce walked between them to clap Nash awkwardly on the shoulder, and Wilder thought, Get out of the kill zone, you idiot . Bryce, he’d learned in the past two days, had absolutely no survival instincts.
“My, my,” LaFavre said and Wilder followed his eyes as Nash turned and looked over his shoulder.
A tall woman, her hair in a long dark braid over her shoulder, was coming down the bridge toward them, her blue shirt blowing back in the wind to reveal a well filled-out white T-shirt that made Wilder rethink white T-shirts. Amazon, Wilder thought. If Nash hadn’t been standing there, he’d have looked longer and possibly smiled, but the stunt coordinator was a wild card, mad as hell about something and not to be ignored. Mission first, women later.
A tall, gangly man followed the Amazon, holding a little blonde kid. He was grinning at Nash, but it wasn’t a friendly grin. More a fuck-you grin. Wilder liked him.
“She an actress?” LaFavre asked Bryce, dropping his voice as he nodded toward the Amazon.
Bryce squinted and then dropped his voice, too. “No. I think that’s the new director. Nash’s ex-wife. She directs dog food commercials or something up in New York so he got her this gig. It’s her big break.”
“Healthy lookin’ woman,” LaFavre said with appreciation and Nash evidently heard, because he turned his stare on LaFavre.
Not so ex, then, Wilder thought and looked at the woman again as she came closer. She was tall, probably six foot, and she looked determined. Powerful. Hot. Yeah, she would be a hard woman to walk away from.
Maybe she was the one who’d walked. That sounded better.
Bryce added, still under his breath. “Nash’ll still run things. It’s mostly stunts this last four days. I think she’s just here to make things look right.”
She’s got her work cut out for her, Wilder thought, and put his eyes back on Nash.
“Looks right to me,” LaFavre said, still staring, and Nash’s face darkened. “Does she like heroes? I could show her my medals. Women are usually real grateful to heroes.”
“Go away,” Wilder said, seeing disaster loom. LaFavre would hit on her, and then Nash would probably kill him. Or try to. LaFavre was remarkably hard to kill.
Right now he just looked wounded, or as wounded as anybody could look in aviator sunglasses. “What about my actresses?”
“I’ll get you one later.”
“Let’s go get a drink then. Fly with me back to Hunter. There’s a strip club–”
“No.” The Amazon was getting closer. “Go away.”
“Screw you.” Wilder fished his Special Forces coin out of his pocket and held it up. “Now go away .”
LaFavre grinned, tipped his World War II flight hat to Bryce and then belatedly to Nash, smiled warmly at the Amazon, and ambled off toward the chopper.
“What’s a coin check?” Bryce said, watching him go.
“Special Forces thing,” Wilder said, keeping an eye on LaFavre to make sure he kept on going.
“Bunch of bullshit,” Nash said.
Bryce nodded at the Amazon as she reached them, stopping as the tall guy with her put the little girl down. The Amazon’s dark eyes swept over them all and, Wilder was pretty sure, missed nothing.
“Lucy Armstrong?” Bryce said.
She smiled and held out her hand to Bryce, walking between Wilder and Nash. Into the kill zone , Wilder thought. These people wouldn’t last five seconds in a gun battle.
“Bryce McKay.” The Amazon shook his hand, her profile to Wilder. “Very pleased to meet you.”
“Welcome aboard.” Bryce nodded at her once, looking oddly serious.
“I cannot see,” the little kid said, and Wilder looked down to see her holding up her binoculars, surrounded by adult legs, her face perturbed under its blonde bowl cut.
The Amazon–no, Armstrong, Bryce had called her–stepped back to let the kid out of the circle as Bryce said, “I want you to meet Captain J. T. Wilder, my new military consultant.”
Armstrong turned those eyes on him, and said, “Hello .” She put her hand out and Wilder took it, still watching Nash, trying not to get distracted. Her grip was solid. And warm. He met her gaze and liked what he saw: Somebody was definitely at home in there. He’d been looking at Bryce for too long. Bryce’s eyes said, “Back in a minute.” Armstrong’s eyes said, “Brace yourself, I’m coming at you.”
“J. T. is a real Green Beret, just like Rambo,” Bryce was saying to Armstrong, and Wilder flinched as Nash laughed.
Rambo , Wilder thought. Fuck.
Armstrong shot Nash a look that could cut glass.
x”Hey,” the little kid said, but Armstrong had already turned back to Wilder
“A Green Beret,” she said. “Very impressive.” She sounded as if she meant it, and Nash lost his sneer.
Wilder felt better.
“This is my assistant director, Gleason Bloom,” she said, and the smile she directed to the lanky guy was affectionate. “Gloom, you know our star, Bryce McKay–”
Wilder watched while Bryce stood straighter when she said “Star.’
“–and this is Captain J. T. Wilder, his . . . friend.”
“Military consultant,” Bryce said, and Gloom shook first his hand and then Wilder’s. Good strong grip with nothing to prove , Wilder thought. Armstrong had clearly traded up if she’d gone from Nash to Gloom.
“Hey.” The little kid was staring out at the swamp through her binoculars, and he followed her eyes but couldn’t see anything. ” Hey ,” she said, looking up at Armstrong as she reached up to tug on her shirt.
“Military consultant,” Nash said, a little too loud, staring at Wilder. “We don’t need one.”
“Well, it’s certainly something to talk about,” Armstrong said cheerfully, with a note under her voice that made it clear that she’d be the one directing the conversation when it happened. She caught the little girl’s hand and tried to hold it, but the kid pulled away.
“I want J. T.,” Bryce said, getting that mule look that Wilder had learned to avoid in the two days they’d been together. “I’m paying for him, he’s my hire, and I want him.”
Armstrong nodded, still cheerful although her jaw was set now. “We will definitely discuss it. But now about your character . . .” She began to talk to Bryce about his role which distracted him, and Wilder relaxed enough to let his eyes scan the set again. People standing or sitting, doing nothing, the lanky guy, Gloom, watching Connor with undisguised loathing, the little kid–
The little kid had climbed on the bridge rail, wobbling as she tried to straddle it, her hands holding the binoculars to her eyes, and it was a damn long way down to the Savannah River below. Wilder was moving even before he realized it.
” Pepper! ” Armstrong yelled a moment later and lunged for her, but Wilder was already scooping the kid off the rail and putting her on the ground. She looked up at him, blue-eyed and annoyed, and he said, “Please do not do that again,” just as Nash reached them.
The kid frowned up at him. “Why?”
” Because I said so ,” Nash exploded as Armstrong dropped to her knees and grabbed the little girl, hugging her close.
Wilder kept his eyes on the kid, trying to figure out what would make sense to her but not scare her. “Because it’s too far up. When you fell, you would hit the water too fast for the molecules to part for you, and you would die.” Oh. that was good. Always smooth with the lines for women.
Pepper blinked at him, squirming in Armstrong’s arms. “Okay, but I was trying to tell you, I saw something.” The little girl wriggled free and straightened her T-shirt. “Something in the swamp. Like a ghost. Or something.” She sighed, exasperated, and looked up at Wilder. “So who are you?”
Wilder was taken aback for a minute, but then he figured the kid had a point. He’d just moved her out of a place she wanted to be without asking her. The least he could do would be tell her his name. He went down on one knee so he could look her in the eye and extended his hand. “I’m J. T. Wilder.”
“I’m P. L. Armstrong.” The kid took his hand and shook it. Wilder almost smiled. Smart kid.
“Jesus Christ,” Nash said from behind them.
Armstrong stood up. “Thank you very much , Captain Wilder.” She met his eyes and held them for a moment too long, long enough to make Nash draw in his breath and Wilder straighten. “We’re very grateful to you.”
How grateful? He thought and then got a grip. Get out of the kill zone, he told himself, and then she smiled at him, nodded to Bryce and said, “We’ll talk more later about your role, but I’m thrilled to be working with you” and took the kid’s hand to lead her back to the monitors.
Wilder watched them walk away, trying to get his detachment back. Mother and daughter . They didn’t look anything alike, and neither Nash or Gloom read right for a father there, but Armstrong was definitely in mother mode . . .
That’s one hell of a woman.
Out of the kill zone, damn it.
He turned and looked out to the swamp. What had the kid seen out there? She might be little but she wasn’t stupid.
He stared out into the wilderness and then back at the human jungle on the bridge. Danger everywhere.
Clusterfuck, he thought and went back to scanning the swamp.
In the swamp north of the bridge, not far from the base-camp where the trailers and trucks were circled, Tyler Branch sat cross-legged with his sniper rifle, half submerged in the warm water that soaked the wet suit and camouflage he wore, and laughed at the Stranger in military uniform standing on the bridge looking for him.
“Never gonna happen, asshole,” he said and put the sight of his rifle on the guy’s head. “Pow,” he said, seeing the word in a big yellow comic book star. “Pow. POW.”
Jesus, he was bored. That’s why he’d stood up and showed himself to that spoiled brat Kid, just to watch her freak out. It had been worth it, she’d almost dropped her damn glasses and then she’d almost fallen off the bridge trying to get a better look. That would have been cool. And nobody would believe her if she told, even if they did all fuss over her all the time. She was a kid. Nobody paid any attention to kids. Nobody sure as hell had ever paid attention to him anyway.
Now they paid attention. Because when Tyler Branch moved, things died. He smiled to himself. Pretty damn cool, that’s what he was.
And pretty damn bored. Four more days of this crap before he’d get to shoot anything. Even the Stranger showing up was boring. The Director, now, she wasn’t bad. He found her and let the sight pan down her body. She was a big woman with a damn good ass. A J. Lo ass. Something there to grab onto.
“Oh, yeah, something there,” he said out loud and startled himself.
Talking to himself. Bad sign. If he didn’t do something soon, he’d start hitting on the gators, thinking “Nice scales, I should get me some of that.” If it wasn’t for the money, he’d have been gone by now, but money could buy a lot of good things. Like women. Women always wanted a piece of you, a piece of your wallet anyway. Guys with money, they had all the women they wanted cause they had lots of pieces. And that was gonna be him. Women paying attention to him all over the place. Women dying to pay attention to him. He put the sight back on the Director’s ass, then moved it down the bridge to the Actress climbing up on the hood of the little red convertible. Now there was a woman. Jesus, those tits–
A rustling sound to his right made him look. Less than six feet away, a nine-foot alligator was crawling up out of the dark water, trying to catch the late afternoon sun.
The reptile paused, half out of the water, and its massive head swung back and forth, nostrils flaring. The head came to a halt, one black eyeball secreted underneath scaly ridges staring straight at Tyler, the other missing, a thick scar marking the spot. The gator’s mouth opened ever so slightly, revealing jagged teeth, and the single eye stared back, unblinking.
“You want a piece of me?” Tyler growled low, baring his teeth. He slowly got to his feet and took a couple of steps up the bank, water dripping off his body.
The gator lifted one large front leg to move forward, and Tyler hissed. Back off, lizard breath.
The clawed foot paused in mid-air. Then the gator pulled the leg back and slowly retreated, slithering into the dark water. The large tail swung, pulling it back twenty feet where it stopped, eye and nostrils above the water, watching.
Believe it, buddy, I own this swamp . Holding the rifle above the water with one hand, Tyler reached into the vest pocket and pulled out a beer. It wasn’t ice-cold, but a beer was a beer, especially when he was waist deep in a swamp staring down a gator. He popped the top and drained it in one steady gulp. He crushed the can and put it back in the same pocket. Pack it out if you pack it in.
He turned his attention back to the bridge. Come on, he thought. Somebody do something interesting. Take off your clothes. Fuck each other. Shoot somebody. Bleed. SOMETHING! Jesus.
The Kid was up there, still with the binoculars. Staring right the fuck at him. Tyler blinked, sure his mind was playing tricks with him, but nope, there she was, little blonde head just topping the concrete railing, the binoculars resting on it, and the two blacks lenses trained his way.
No fucking way she could see him now. For a second, Tyler’s finger slid over the trigger, tempted to send a round straight through the left lens right into her beady little eyeball. Now that would be a shot. Too bad she hadn’t fallen off the bridge. He could have hit her before she hit the water.
Of course, somebody would have noticed that, their precious baby with a big ass hole in her. Well, fuck covert. He needed to shoot something.
He turned away from the bridge. There must be something out here that needed to die. He moved the gun, sweeping the sight along the bridge and then onto the nearby shoreline of the Savannah River until he spotted something rooting through the brush. A wild hog. Searching for food near the old abandoned grain towers on the other side of the bridge.
Tyler adjusted for the slight elevation difference as the hog drew closer to the shore and his position. Distance was one hundred and sixty-two feet according to the laser range finder. But there was something else, something in the river, close to the hog. Tyler looked back to see that the gator was gone from its perch on the nearby bank. Out there in the river now. Stalking the hog.
“Not so fast, buddy-boy,” Tyler whispered. He placed the sight’s cross-hairs on the hog, moving with it as it dug with its tusks. He noted that the gator was moving closer, very slowly, waiting to get within range. He imagined the hog getting caught in the gator’s jaws, bone crunching, blood spraying.
“Outstanding,” he said to himself.
Too bad this was his kill.
Tyler adjusted ever so slightly for lateral movement, let out his breath, felt the rhythm of his blood, shut out everything but his heartbeat and the hog. In between beats, he squeezed the trigger.
The hog tumbled several feet and was still. Then the gator lunged out of the water, jaws snapping down on the dead body, and dragged it back into the river.
“Cool,” Tyler said and pulled out another luke-warm beer. The gator disappeared underwater with the hog. Game over.
He looked up at the bridge and the Kid was there, the Director walking her down the bridge.
Fat chance you see me again, you little creep .
Fuck, he was bored. And hungry.
Gotta get me some Cheetos, he though and put the sight back on the Kid.