Derrick LaBlanc, member of the Screen Actor’s Guild Secret Action Group, locked eyes with the sweaty thug and waited for him to blink. All he needed was his adversary to suffer a moment’s loss of concentration, and he could snap-kick the machete out of his opponent’s grasp.
The two circled like panthers on the concrete floor, Derrick with practiced poise, the other in grim determination, the abandoned warehouse dark around them. Sunlight struggled vainly to penetrate the dirty windows; the only sound was the labored breathing of the would-be assassin.
Derrick stepped lightly over the shattered remains of an Uzi; nearby were the similar carcasses of a blowgun and of a crossbow. He had knocked each of them, one after the other, out of the thug’s clutches. The machete was the underling’s only remaining weapon.
“Care to give me a name?” Derrick asked. “I really like knowing who is trying to kill me. I’m funny that way.”
“Just call me Gonzo — that’s good enough for you,” snarled his foe.
“Gonzo, eh? That’s an anagram of Zongo — as in Norbert Zongo, the infamous underworld figure. Your employer, perhaps? He’s been known to indulge in wordplay when naming his lackeys.”
Gonzo, a sneer creasing his face, said nothing.
“Last month, for example,” Derrick continued, “a certain Ognoz met with an unfortunate accident on the set of Backstab, as you may recall.” Gonzo swore and swiped viciously with his machete. Derrick, still speaking calmly, ducked to avoid the gleaming blade, and was nearly caught by Gonzo’s follow-up kick. Nearly. The man was good, yes. But Derrick was better.
“Bruce Willis discovered him bugging his dressing room. Ognoz survived the encounter, but I understand that he can do no more than gurgle in response to questions. Then there was that oddball – what was his name? Ah, yes, Bertron — caught redhanded boobytrapping Jim Carrey’s jacuzzi. I wonder if he ever regained the use of his spine. Jim isn’t known for subtlety.”
Gonzo, backing up, seized an old wooden stool and flung it at Derrick’s face.
Derrick dodged. “Watch it!” he said. “You know what I told you before — any bruises, and I’ll get very, very irate. But then again, SAG foiled Zongo’s plot to bring down the cosmetics industry. So I guess I’ll have all the makeup I need to cover any injuries the likes of you could inflict.”
“Pretty boy!” Gonzo snarled. “You’re going down!”
Gonzo slashed at Derrick again. But this time, instead of ducking, Derrick leapt lightly into the air, and his foot lashed out, snapping bones in Gonzo’s knifehand and sending the machete skittering across the floor.
Landing gracefully back on his feet, Derrick then delivered a chop to Gonzo’s neck, Schwarzeneggering him.
“Chopin’s Moderato in E major wasn’t published until 1843, you poor fool,” Derrick murmured to the unconscious man. “You must have forgotten that my first walk-on role was that of Ferdinand Hiller, German pianist and friend of Chopin, in the 1986 straight-to-video biopic. You thought only a character actor would know trivia like that. I let you lure me out here, and think you had me fooled. Now you’ve paid the price.”
He wiped his hands together, and then pulled a small mirror out of a jacket pocket. He examined himself — the penetrating blue eyes, the tufted hair, the sharp high cheekbones. Satisfied that no damage had been done, he touched up his hair with a small comb that flicked into his hand, and then returned the mirror to his pocket.
“Better get back to the set,” he said to himself. “Cameron’s going to kill me if I’m late again.”
Tamara Wren pulled Derrick aside while the crew set the lighting up for the climactic battle in the shoe store. They threaded their way past microphone booms and camera tripods, stepping over electrical cables, and came to a darkened nook behind one of the false walls of the set.
“Derrick!” Tamara whispered, a hand on his arm. “What happened at the hospital? I didn’t want to say anything in front of the extras, but I noticed the hole in your sleeve — a hole just the size that would be made by a poison-tipped dart.”
“Yes — fortunately it didn’t penetrate the skin, or leave a mark. The reflexes I honed on the set of Kill and Kill Again came in real handy.”
Tamara opened her mouth to speak, but Derrick forestalled her with a raised hand. “Yes. I had a little trouble. Sent our way, I am sure, by our old friend Norbert Zongo.”
“Zongo! I would have thought he’d learned his lesson last time, when Harrison Ford and Jodie Foster commandeered that flaming hijacked bus and drove it right through his compound.”
“Our Norbert doesn’t catch on too quickly,” said Derrick. “Remember what Connery did to him back in ’75. And six years ago Arnold held him over a chasm for almost two hours, and all that time the devil swore up and down that he would change his ways. No, his type never learns.”
Derrick put a hand to his clefted chin and gazed out into space, past the lights and overhead booms. “But I have one question. How did his henchman know I’d be visiting the hospital’s children’s wing just at that moment? It was an unpublicized event! And yet I had time to sign no more than a dozen autographs before I smelled the poison gas. The monster that had put the poison in the ventilation system lured me with a clever stratagem to a nearby abandoned warehouse, of which our city has so many. There we had it out.”
Tamara, open-mouthed, said, “Poison gas! Were any of the children..?”
“No, no. Good thing I played that doctor in Good for What Ails You. I was able to synthesize an antidote in time, using the contents of a nearby cleaning cart and a package of Q-tips I found under a bed.”
“Not your best picture,” Tamara remembered. “The lighting was hideous.”
“I knew Tad Gielow was the lighting director before I signed on, so I expected that. But I’d never played a doctor before, and I wanted to repair that hole in my education. And lucky for those tykes I did, too.”
Tamara tossed her hair. “I know what you mean. If I hadn’t played that brain surgeon on ER, I never would have been able to save — well, kind of save — Adam Sandler after those vicious hoodlums cornered him in that parking lot. But we’re still left with the question — how did Zongo hear about your trip? Did you tell your agent?”
Derrick laughed. “Ron? No, no, I never tell him anything important.”
“Then who could have known? Come on, you’ve played enough detectives. List the possible suspects, no matter how unlikely they may be.”
“Yeah. As we’ve discovered, it’s usually the most unlikely suspect who turns out to be guilty. OK, then. I did call the hospital director, Dr. Walter Pluff. I doubt he told anyone, however — he’s a mute.”
“He could have written –”
“No, he lost both hands during a particularly difficult colon transplant. From what I hear, it’s a miracle the patient survived.”
“OK, so he’s off the list. Who else?”
“Well, let me think. Chris Darroca, Deb Adair, both SAG members in good standing. And our young co-star, Dondi Bastone. I may have mentioned the trip to him while we were in makeup yesterday; he was having his five o’clock shadow darkened, and I needed some emergency eyebrow work.”
“Then the hairdresser–”
“No, it was Leyla Zana. She doesn’t speak any English — just Turkish, and a smattering of Kurdish. Not that her grammar is all that good in either language.”
“Tell me about it. That’s everyone?”
“All right, then.” Tamara wrinkled her justifiably famous brow. “Chris and Deb we can cross off, anyway. As members of the team, their honor is above reproach. They’ve both saved our lives more times than I can count. I consider them as trustworthy as Streep or Zeta-Jones.”
“Yeah, and Chris covered for me that time I missed my line in Details at Eleven. Not the kind of thing he would do if he were working for the Other Side.”
Tamara nodded. “And Deb Adair lent me her dressing room on If Looks Could Kill.”
“Her dressing room? No kidding. I hear that her contract stipulates bowls of imported Alaskan prunes. Are they as good as they say?”
“God, yes! And the shelled red M & M’s — but let’s get back to the case at hand.”
“Right. It can’t be Deb or Chris. So that leaves — Dondi Bastone!”
Tamara looked around; still no one in earshot. “It seems impossible,” she said. “I mean, he may be a little conceited –”
“He’s young. And when a kid is in a hit as big as Lusitania, well, it turns his head.”
“–but I can’t believe he would sell us out!”
“I know what you mean. And, anyway, how could he sell us out, Tamara? He doesn’t even know about the organization. As far as he knows, the Screen Actors Guild is just a union. To him, John Malkovich is fully human. Morgan Freeman has no connection to the ancient Babylonian god Marduk. Geena Davis isn’t genetically enhanced. And Woody Allen is just another musician / actor / comedian / writer / director / philosopher.”
“Right. Although they were talking about letting Dondi into the Secret Action Group, right? Initiating him?”
“Well, Stallone suggested it at the last meeting; when Dondi did Speed Freak he picked up some useful skills on skydiving and the violin. But it was decided not to extend the invitation — Hopkins did a psych profile on him when they were doing that Lassie remake, and some of the findings…. You know how he always plays good-looking guys with oatmeal for brains? Well, that’s not acting.
“He’ll stay outside.”
Tamara’s phone beeped. “I better check my message,” she said. “It could be my agent.”
“Derrick?” an assistant director called. “We’re ready for you now.”
Derrick came out of the shadows. “Right.” He came out onto the set of the shoe store where his character, a junkie ex-cop, and the junkie’s redeemer, a fresh-faced young FBI agent played by Dondi Bastone, would shoot it out with the bad guys.
Dondi was on the set already, pacing back and forth.
“How’s it going, Dondi?”
“Oh, just fine, Mr. LaBlanc. Awesome. I’m really looking forward to this scene.”
“Yeah, me too. But it’s just ‘Derrick,’ kid, remember?” He looked at the young actor. Was he involved with the leak? It went against all precedent for silver-spoon stars like him to work with – much less for – mere character actors, but…
He’d have to find out. The operation in Madrid, the Area 51 business, the planned coup in Paris – too much was at stake.
After they shot the scene, Derrick placed his gun within easy reach on the counter. “Dondi, I was just at the hospital, visiting some unwell children. I was wondering–”
“Oh, yeah. I remember you said something about going there.”
“Did you happen to mention it to anyone else?”
“Anyone else? Well, let me think.” Dondi screwed up his young, flawless face, closing one eye and biting his lower lip. “Oh, yeah!” he said. “My sister called. I guess I told her. And there was that bald guy with the eyepatch I saw lurking around the backstage door — I figured he was one of the director’s friends or someone. And I think I told the president of my fan club. She sent me an email.”
“The bald guy, Dondi – ”
“With the eyepatch?”
“Yes, that one. Was he holding a pen? Did he have a little pad of paper? Were there four or five cameras slung around his neck?”
“Uh, yeah. I think so. I’m not sure if it was four or five, though. Maybe five. I think.”
“Lizardo!” Derrick grated.
“Who?” said Dondi.
Tamara sauntered over to them. “Hey, guys.”
“Tamara.” Derrick tapped his finger against his chin — the signal that he had news.
Tamara was doing the same thing!
“Hi, uh, Ms Wren,” stammered Dondi. Two weeks into shooting, and he still gawked at her like every pimply teenage boy.
“How’s it going, Dondi?”
“Uh, oh — fine, Ms Wren!” Dondi laughed nervously.
“Great.” Tamara gave him one of her insured and trademarked smiles. “Oh, Derrick — could you help me go over a couple of my lines?”
“Sure, Tamara.” Derrick clapped Dondi on the shoulder. “See you later, kid!”
“Sure, Mr. LaBlanc!”
Tamara and Derrick wandered towards the dressing rooms.
“I got a message from Irv Gooch, our ace mole over at the Star Enquirer,” Tamara whispered. “He tells me that one of their paparazzi just came in with a photo. A photo of you snapkicking a machete out of the hand of a man identified as a certain Johnny Sacko, a lawbreaker recently released from prison.”
“Sacko, huh? Hardly an improvement on Gonzo.”
A stagehand strolled by, whistling. Tamara stopped, and looked at Derrick. She switched from English to Apache, a language she and Derrick had learned on the set of Bloody Arrow. “This is bad, Derrick, really bad. Once that picture is released, people will start wondering why you would be fighting a felon. They’ll investigate. The whole organization could be exposed!”
“Making our work all but impossible,” Derrick said. “And giving The Other Side a perfect opportunity to move against us.”
“Now, of all times!” said Tamara. “Just when the program in Kuala Lampur is at such a critical phase! Not the mention the mess in Tokyo, where those re-animated–”
“That picture must not be published.”
“Right, Derrick. Now, according to Gooch, the paparazzi is none other than–”
“Roberto Lizardo. I guessed as much. It seems Dondi spoke to him earlier, and let slip my plans to visit the hospital.”
“I see. But Derrick – paparazzi are the scum of the universe, just about as principled as velociraptors, but they’re not on The Other Side. So how did they find out about your trip?”
“Dondi appears to have informed half the known world of my plan. It would be amazing if The Other Side hadn’t found out. I’ll have to be more circumspect when talking to that kid.”
“But that still leaves us with our current problem. We have only hours before that picture is on the cover of the Star Enquirer.”
“Cover? I think not. I understand that today they have a photo of Elizabeth Taylor eating a live–”
“On the cover or not, the picture will be in there,” said Tamara. “And it will be only a matter of time, then, until the significance of that image is realized.”
“I agree. We have just one option.”
“Break into the offices of the Star Enquirer, and steal that photo! But Lizardo may have copies – printed, or scanned into his home computer. We have to get them all.”
“I’ll call Jeff Goldblum, get him to hack Lizardo’s computer. You can call Stiller and Wilson. Get them to ransack Lizardo’s place, and see if there are any prints. And we’d better get over to the Star Enquirer offices right now.”
“Now?” Tamara said. “But my espionage kit is back in my house in Malibu. And you told me earlier your grappling hook gun was being repainted.”
“Just a touch-up job. Yes, I know we have no equipment with us. We’ll have to improvise once we arrive on the set – er, scene.”
Night had fallen, throwing long shadows into the alley. Derrick and Tamara, dressed as ninjas, crouched behind a trash bin and surveyed the back entrance to the Star Enquirer building.
“Doesn’t look all that secure,” murmured Tamara. “Simple bolt lock, a ShieldGuard alarm system version 2.5. Just one guard, according to Gooch. This shouldn’t be too hard.”
She started to rise to her feet, but Derrick reached over to stop her.
“Wait. You’re forgetting something.”
Tamara looked confused for a second, then nodded. “Of course. If it looks too easy –”
“It probably is too easy. There must be backup alarms or protective devices. Dobermans — or maybe even Dobermen — patrolling the inside corridors. Could be motion-sensitive cameras or touch-activated exploding floor tiles.”
“You’re thinking of that time you broke into the Pope’s bathroom to get that –”
“Actually, I was thinking of Dead Meat, a little flick I made about ten years ago. But yeah, the Pope’s little surprises should remind us to be more careful, too.”
The two actors remained in the shadows and watched the door.
“Maybe I could recite some Shakespeare or West Wing dialog,” said Tamara. “When the guards come out to listen, enthralled, you could sneak in behind their backs and –”
“Why should you be the one doing the recitation?”
Tamara looked at Derrick. “You don’t think I could?”
“I didn’t say that. But it could just as well be me who—”
“Look. There’s a window up there. Second floor. Come on.”
Derrick lifted Tamara even higher, her feet secure on his uplifted hands. “Good thing we’ve both played acrobats at various times in our careers. Can you reach the window?”
“Take half a step to the right. There.” Tamara was now directly below the window ledge. “And don’t remind me — the part of Abigail Doyle, the trapeze artist struck down by polio on the eve of her wedding to the circus strong man, was not my best work.”
“It’s paying off now. Can you get to the window?”
“Just a second.” Tamara gave an experimental hop.
“Uggh! You’re not as light as you look, Tamara, when you’re jumping around like that.”
“I guess I need to get some more lipo. The window ledge is just a little out of my reach. Can you lift me any higher?”
Derrick strained. Already his arms were starting to quiver. “Not really. Better make one good jump, and grab on.”
Tamara leapt — and just managed to scrape the ledge with her fingertips. She came back down onto Derrick’s hands.
His tired arms couldn’t take the sudden impact, and crumpled. One of Tamara’s feet hit him squarely in the jaw, and he just had time to gasp, “My profile!” before he fell to the ground, bringing Tamara down with him.
“It’s just too high,” Tamara said, sitting up.
Derrick rubbed his jaw. He disentangled himself from Tamara and fished in his pocket for a mirror.
The light was bad, but his jaw looked pretty good. Nothing a little makeup — well, a little extra makeup — couldn’t hide.
“It’s no good doing it that way,” he muttered. “Here, I know. I’ll stand here, and you come running up to me. Jump onto my clasped hands, and I’ll vault you right up to the window.”
Tamara raised one eyebrow and looked at him. “Think that will work?”
“Sure it will. I did it in Rampage II.”
“OK. Let’s try it.”
Derrick got into position, and clasped his hands. He nodded at Tamara.
She sprinted towards him, and leapt gracefully into his hands. He heaved, and up she soared.
Tamara smacked into the wall three feet shy of the window, and fell back down like a digitized Titanic sailor.
Derrick ran to help Tamara to regain her feet. She was in no hurry to do so.
“You almost got there,” Derrick said. “We’ll try again. This time, try to push off with your legs just as I –”
“Oh, no, Derrick! No way!” Tamara swayed woozily.
“But we have to get in that building, Tamara! Maybe if we just –”
Derrick hushed. He’d heard it, too. A low chuckle.
Coming from the bushes that ran along a low fence behind them.
A man stood up, just visible in the shadows cast by a streetlamp. “Sorry,” he said in a low voice. “It’s just seeing you two — I mean, you guys broke into the Pentagon, just to use the bathroom! You’ve climbed the walls of the Kremlin, and tunneled under the Pyramids. Hah! And here you sit, stymied by a three-story brick building in a low-rent district! It’s too much.”
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” said Derrick. “But who are you — you, who seem to know so much about us?”
The man stepped forward, into the light. Derrick and Tamara saw the face of a heavy-jawed man with the thick neck, broken nose, and single eyebrow so common among the minions of The Other Side.
“A thug!” said Derrick. He dropped into a fighting stance.
“A minion!” said Tamara at the same time. She grabbed for the whip coiled about her waist.
The man stepped closer. “Oh, come now. No heroics, please. After all, we’re all in the same line of work. Comrades and colleagues, eh? We’re thespians, too, you know.”
“You call me that again, and you’re dead meat,” said Derrick.
“Oh,” Tamara was saying at the same time, “you’re just character actors! We’re nothing like you,” she spat. “Your type claws for power, lusts for unearned riches, and scorns unnecessary plastic surgery and above-title billing. We, on the other hand, save the world whenever we have the opportunity, and look great while doing it.”
“Yeah,” said Derrick.
The thug continued to advance. He stopped about ten feet away from the famous pair.
“Is that what you’re doing now? Saving the world? I must tell you, it looks a lot more like you’re trying to break into a tabloid publisher’s office to do some petty thievery.”
“That’s not fair,” said Derrick weakly. “I mean, sure, it may look like we’re doing that, but in fact it’s a necessary component of our larger, world-saving role.”
“Sounds like a rationalization,” the thug said. “And do you really want to imply that the ends justify the means? No more pretense!” He took three more steps forward. “Allow me to give you a name. You can call me Goonz.” He extended a hand.
Derrick ignored it. “Another Zongo anagram? He must be running out of combinations. In addition to Gonzo, we’ve dealt with Oznog, Gonoz, Ognoz, Zogno–”
“Then there was Oongz, and Nozog, and Ognoz,” Tamara added.
“Yes. And Znoog and, excuse me, Gznoo. Not to mention Ognoz. I’d say Norbert Zongo was running out of ideas.”
Goonz laughed. “He’s hardly started the variations of ‘Norbert,’ and then he can do a whole bunch using the letters in his first and second names – all together!”
“Blast!” Tamara thwacked a fist into a palm.
“In any case, all this is beside the point. It occurs to me, actors, that we have a common goal here. We both need to recover that photograph.”
“Why would you want it?” demanded Derrick. “To blackmail me? It will never work!”
“Blackmail? While that is a hobby of mine, think, Mr. LaBlanc, please think. I couldn’t release that photograph without also endangering one of our own operatives.”
“What would you care?” Tamara said. “Your kind knows no loyalty. Zongo could find another minion easily enough.”
“Well, normally, you might suppose so,” admitted Goonz. “However, a number of our team are serving in the Bush administration, and are kept pretty busy there. Also, even using ‘Norbert,’ and both names together, the number of possibilities is still limited. We can’t be as profligate with our staff as we might wish, these days.”
“You’re suggesting an alliance,” said Derrick.
“Exactly so. A temporary one, to be sure. But we all want that photograph destroyed. You can’t seem to do it yourself, and I can hardly make an attempt with you two here to jump me.”
“We can’t trust him, Derrick,” Tamara whispered. “I don’t like it.”
“Nor do I,” Derrick whispered back.
“What choice do you have?” Goonz asked. “I saw you trying to get into this building. No doubt you could return to base and bring the proper tools — but time is slipping away. Soon, that photo will be on the cover.”
“Cover?” said Derrick. “I doubt it. They have a photo of Elizabeth Taylor eating a live–”
“Yes, yes, we all know about that. She’s eaten worse. Time is running out. Stars, you must decide.”
Derrick looked at Tamara. Tamara looked at Derrick. They both shrugged at the same time.
“Very well, Goonz, we have a temporary alliance,” said Derrick. “But I warn you; at the first sign of treachery, I will have no reservations about wrapping your intestines about your neck.”
“Yeah, that Vin Diesel thing,” said Goonz. “Believe me, no one on our side has to be reminded of that.”
“Do you have a plan? Just picking the lock won’t do it – there’s a guard.”
“No need for picking locks. I have a grappling hook gun.” Goonz reached behind him, and pulled out a small, streamlined black gun. “It’s got a line detacher, a retractor, and extendable hooks with the patented ‘SureGrip’ design.”
“Ooh!” Derrick said. “Can I see?” Goonz handed it over. “Feels nice in the hand,” said Derrick. “And lighter than you’d expect.”
“It’s almost twenty percent lighter than our previous model, and yet carries a standard two hundred feet of line.”
“Two hundred? What’s the lifting capacity?”
“Guys?” Tamara said. “Maybe we should start working on our little problem?”
“Right,” Derrick said. “Shop talk can wait.”
The three approached the building, stopping just below the window.
“May I?” asked Derrick. Goonz gestured magnanimously.
Derrick lifted the gun, sighted, and depressed the trigger. The hooks extended, and the line shot away with nothing more than a slight whirring sound.
The line arced overhead, and came down on the roof. Derrick pulled at the line, and it went taut. “I’ll go first,” he said. “Wait for me to get inside. Then you come up, Goonz. Tamara can bring up the rear.”
“I heard she brought up her rear just last month, at that clinic in Switzerland,” Goonz said.
“It was a tiny little job,” Tamara protested. “The animal rights people got it way out of proportion. And anyway, I need to look good if I want to keep getting parts that are useful for the cause!”
Goonz chuckled. “Shhhh!” said Derrick, already several feet above their heads.
Soon Derrick was at the window. He brought up an elbow and shattered the glass, catching the shards with swift reflexes before they could tinkle to the floor.
He took a quick look inside the building, then pulled himself in. Soon he reappeared at the window, motioning Goonz and Tamara to come up.
“Let’s go, thug,” said Tamara. “Move it.”
Goonz took hold of the rope. “I’m not a thug,” he said indignantly. “I’m a henchman.” He started up to the window.
“Henchman, thug — what’s the difference?”.
“It’s a big difference,” Goonz grunted, hauling himself up along the rope. “You start out as a stooge, then work your way up to lackey. The next step up is to be a thug, then a goon, then a minion. Finally, the very best get to be henchmen. It’s really exasperating how you folks use the terms indiscriminately.”
“Sorry.” Tamara started up the rope after the thu – henchman. So what comes after henchman?”
“Sidekick, and then right-hand man. But that’s a really tough position to get in today’s economy, and right-hand men tend to be thrown to the wolves when the heat gets turned up.”
Goonz reached the window, and swung himself into the building, followed closely by Tamara. The room was dark except for the dim moonlight coming in the window, outlining several desks and a single door.
“Nothing in here,” whispered Derrick. “No computers, files, reference books. This must be where they think up their stories. We need to find the photo lab.”
Goonz drew a pair of goggles out of a pocket and slipped them on over his eyes.
“Hey,” Tamara whispered, “are those infrared goggles?” She began pulling in the line, coiling it on the floor next to the window.
“They look so thin and light! Kind of stylish, too. Where can I get a pair of those?”
“They’re produced for Zongo under an exclusive contract.”
“Man! Why do the bad guys get all the best stuff?”
“I really think we need to find that photo lab, guys,” said Derrick.
“I’ll scout ahead,” said Goonz.
“Go ahead,” said Derrick.
Goonz eased the door open and slipped out.
Derrick eased the door shut again and squatted on the floor. Tamara squatted near him.
After about ten minutes had passed, Derrick said, “I don’t like this. He could have found the photograph by now, and crept back to his lair, for all we know.”
“But what can we do?” asked Tamara. “Maybe one of us should go back down, wait outside in case he tries something like that.”
“Good idea. Why don’t you –”
The door opened, and Goonz stood in the doorway. “I found the lab. But there’s a problem.”
“What is it?”
“Some old man. I don’t know if he’s some kind of night watchman or what, but he’s sleeping in a chair right in front of the photolab.”
“That is a problem,” muttered Derrick, stroking his chin.
“Not for long,” said Goonz. He pulled a wicked little dagger out of his shoe. “I’ll creep up behind him. Once he’s eliminated, we can –”
“No! said Tamara. “We can’t do that.”
“Do you have a better plan?”
Tamara shook her head. “Well, no, but we can’t just kill innocent citizens. At least, not innocent citizens of the U.S.”
“We agreed, I believe, that we have to get that picture,” said Goonz. “Our exposure could result in a lot more deaths. This one man must be sacrificed.”
Derrick spoke. “I agree, we have to get that photo,” he said. “But we can’t murder for it. Not if there’s any other way.”
“I’m still waiting to hear any ‘other’ way, mannequin.”
Derrick turned on his ally. “Don’t push me, Goonz.”
“I’m not pushing you.”
“I’m serious. I can call Christopher Walken, you know.”
“There’s no need for Christopher Walken to get involved. Just relax.”
“I mean it. I got him on speed-dial. I could call him in a second.” Derrick reached for his phone.
“OK, OK! Sorry!”
“All right, then.”
“Uh, we do still need another plan, Derrick,” said Tamara.
“I know, I know.” Derrick stroked his chin some more. It had the desired effect. “I got it!” he cried. “Tamara, you’re a famous movie star –”
“Well, duh,” said Tamara.
“– who has gotten lost in these city streets. You stop, and knock on the door of this building to ask for directions. He’ll be so amazed to be face to face with the famous Tamara Wren that Goonz and I will have no trouble slipping into the photolab without being noticed.”
Tamara nodded. “Sounds good,” she said.
Goonz was not so sure. “OK, that’ll get us in the lab. But it may take a little while to locate the exact roll of film we need. How will we get back out again? Giving directions, even to a brain-dead Hollywood actress, won’t take too long.”
“Good point,” said Derrick.
“I know,” said Goonz. “We can quickly slip in, start a fire in the lab, and slip out. That will take only a moment, and the photo will surely be destroyed.”
“I don’t like it,” said Derrick. “Destruction of private property –”
“What other choice do we have?” hissed Goonz. “And remember, we’re running out of time!”
“Trust me,” said Tamara. “I can draw the process out as long as you need. You don’t know how dumb I can act.”
Goonz looked doubtful, but said nothing.
“That’s good enough for me,” said Derrick. “Tamara, back out the window you go. And good luck.”
“Good luck to you, too,” said Tamara. In a whisper, she added, “Watch your back, Derrick! Remember that scene in Deal with Death, where the bad guy doublecrosses the lame dyslexic sewage worker reformer just after she reveals the secret code!” She slipped out the window like a shadow and disappeared into the night.
“I never saw that one,” muttered Derrick. He turned to Goonz. “Let’s get to that lab.”
The actor and the scoundrel crept downstairs, and soon came to a landing. Derrick eased the door open. On a desk, a single lamp glowed dimly, and behind that desk the old man drooped, jaw slack, snores periodically erupting from his nose. One leg was on the desk, and his chair was tilted back to an alarming degree.
A moment later, they heard a knock on the outside door. The sleeping man snuffled and twitched, but didn’t awaken. The knock was repeated, more loudly.
“Huh?” the man swung his leg onto the floor and stood up, groggy. He crossed to the door and opened it. “Can I help you?”
Derrick and Goonz couldn’t see Tamara from where they crouched, but her voice was clear. “Oh, hi! I hope you can help me? I got sort of lost! I guess I’m kind of out of my element. I know Hollywood much better. You know, because I make movies there!”
“Oh, my goodness!” the old man said. “You’re Natalie Portman!”
“Uh, no, not exactly. I’m Tamara Wren.”
“Tamara Wren! Well, I’ll be. My wife will never believe this.”
Tamara had undone two buttons of her blouse, so the man’s attention was fully occupied. Derrick and Goonz slipped across the floor and into the photolab. Goonz closed the lab door behind them.
Derrick flipped on a light switch. “Right. Let’s locate that photo.”
“I don’t see any undeveloped rolls,” said Goonz. “We’d better check the photo files.” There were three file cabinets.
“OK. You start on that one, and I’ll start on this one.” The two secret agents opened file drawers and flipped through their contents.
“They don’t seem to have alphabetized them,” said Goonz. “Here’s a picture of Clint Eastwood swimming nude – eeew! — right next to one of Elvis shaking hands with a mummy. How are you doing?”
Derrick flipped through photograph after photograph. “No luck yet,” he said. He paused to look at a photo of Bob Newhart shouldering a bazooka. “I’d better take this one, too.” He flipped on.
“Quite a collection, here,” said Goonz. “They may even decide not to use the picture of you and Gonzo. You have stiff competition.”
“I see that. Still, we can take no chances. Ah hah! Here it is!” Derrick held aloft the incriminating photograph. The negative was in a clear plastic envelope, paperclipped to the picture.
“Good,” said Goonz. “Is the old guy still mesmerized by your bewitching co-star?”
Derrick flipped the light off and opened the door a crack.
“Yeah, well, Cameron Diaz really had seen him first, so what could I do? I put my shirt back on and tiptoed out. People think movie stars have it easy, but we have these kinds of problems all the time. Problems the general public never hears about.”
“Really!” said the old man.
Derrick and Goonz stole along the floor towards the stairs.
“Oh, yes,” said Tamara. “Sure, it’s nice to have a jacuzzi that seats twenty-seven, but just try finding someone to come clean it at 4 a.m. after Ian McKellan barfs into it.”
“I guess that would be a problem. Ian McKellan, huh?”
Derrick gained the stairs, and stole up them quiet as a shadow. Goonz followed, just as quietly.
Soon they were back in the upstairs room, and hurried to the window. Derrick poked his head out, and waited until Tamara glanced up.
“I really must be going,” she said to the old man. “But thank you, once again, for the directions.”
The man murmured something, Tamara simpered, and finally the door was closed. Derrick tucked the photo into a pocket, then lifted the coiled line and dropped it to the ground below. He turned to Goonz. “Let’s go.”
They were down the line in moments, and the three headed for the darkness behind the dumpster.
“How did it go?” Tamara asked.
“Great,” Derrick said. “I’ve got the picture right –” He felt in his pocket, then stopped breathing. He checked his other pockets. “I must have dropped it!” he said. “Maybe when I came down the rope. I’ll go –”
Goonz chuckled. “Here, you go,” he said. “Lifting it out of your pocket was just a little too tempting, Mr. LaBlanc.”
Derrick glared, but Tamara giggled, and her co-star had to smile as well. “Nicely done,” he admitted.
Goonz handed over the picture. “You two did very well. I actually find myself hoping that I won’t have to feed you to the newts someday.”
“Newts?” said Tamara.
“Yeah, well, our leader, he has this thing about newts. Got a vat of them.”
“OK — but still, newts?”
“Hey, all the top predators have been done to death. Tigers? Sharks? It’s all been done. Our guy just happens to like newts. Don’t ask.”
“It’s hard to believe..”
“Let’s just drop it, OK?”
Derrick leaned back against the dumpster. He pulled a cigarette lighter out of a pocket. “Shall we?”
The others nodded, and Derrick scritched a flame out of the lighter, and touched it to the photograph. It began to curl and blister. Derrick dropped it to the ground, and the three watched the image blacken and twist until it was no more.
“Well, that’s a relief,” said Tamara.
“Amen,” said Goonz.
They stood up.
“So,” Tamara said.
“Yeah,” said Goonz. “I guess that’s done.”
“Guess so,” Derrick said. “So, anyways…”
“Yeah.” Goonz looked down at his shoes.
“I wish –” Tamara began.
“What?” Goonz asked her.
“Well, you know, that you could kinda…”
“You know. Join our side. Join the good guys.”
“Yeah!” said Derrick. “That’s how it would be in the movies, right? Having found a newfound respect for us, you would reconsider your life of evil–”
“Hold it,” said Goonz. “Maybe it’s my side that’s good, and you guys are supposed to join with us. Maybe we do what we do to protect the world against the self-centered antics of a bunch of overpaid pretty boys. And girls. Mannequins who don’t realize the world would be better off without their posturings and vacuous pronouncements on world peace and greenhouse gasses.”
“Wow,” said Tamara.
“Yeah,” said Derrick. “I never thought of it that way. Is that how you guys really see us?”
Goonz glared at the two actors for a moment, then his face crinkled into a smile. “Nah. No, character actors are just jealous as all hell.”
“Then join us!” Tamara wrinkled her perfect brow imploringly.
“That’s what would happen in the movies,” said Goonz, “but this is real life. Can’t you tell the difference?”
From a sleeve he dropped a tiny pellet. It exploded into green smoke when it hit the ground. Derrick and Tamara bent over, retching and coughing.
Slowly the smoke cleared.
Goonz was gone.
“That’s the end, I guess,” said Derrick. “Roll the credits.”
This story originally appeared in Outposts of BeyondRecommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in