“Impostor syndrome, for those of you that don’t know, is when someone famous feels like they’re faking it, or are unworthy of the person the rest of the world sees them as.”
“Yeah, not really a problem with me.”
“Oh? Can you elaborate?”
“Well, to put it simply, I’m awesome.”
She laughed. “You are.”
“See, there’s no privacy in celebrity anymore. So I figure, why bother? I’m an open book. My fans know exactly who I am.”
The studio audience roared in agreement.
Schreiber raised his hand at them. “Thank you, thank you.”
The talk show host gave him a dazzling smile, revealing two rows of whiter-than-perfect teeth. “So you’ll answer any question I ask you?’
Schreiber shrugged. “Anything.”
“Alright, you heard him.” The host turned to face the camera fully. “We have to take a quick break. But you won’t want to miss tonight, when we join Clint Schreiber and other Hollywood royalty for what’s being called the party of the century. But first – if you have any questions for Clint Schreiber, we’d love to hear from you. Tweet us at –”
Nick slid his finger over the power button on the TV. He’d heard enough nonsense.
“Hey! I was watching that,” Suki looked up at him, annoyed. The fact that she was his girlfriend was the only reason he’d let the stupid talk show run as long as it had.
“What – were you going to tweet him?” Nick taunted jovially. They shared a set with Clint Schreiber every day. Like everywhere, Hollywood had its kind people and its nasty ones. In Nick’s opinion, Clint was the price of admission for finding someone like Suki. That, and Clint was the only reason Nick had a job. “Come on. Dinner’s almost ready.”
“Hey, if I found the right question, we could make him make a fool of himself on live television.” Still, she stood up and wrapped her arms around his waist. “If it’s any consolation, I think you’re far more attractive than he is.” She leaned back without letting go, offering a mischievous smile.
“Har, har,” he responded dryly. “Very funny.” Outwardly, Nick was practically Clint’s doppelganger. The biggest difference between them was the hair, which Nick intentionally kept longer. But besides that, eye color, and muscle structure, they could have been twins. It was why Nick got the job as the star’s stunt double. Nick comforted himself with the thought that their similarities ended visually. “Don’t forget,” he reminded Suki, “if he gets fired, so do I.”
“They’ve already dropped a hundred million on this project. They’re not going to fire him, or you.” She interrupted herself to lean up, onto her toes, to kiss him. “Not with only two weeks left in shooting.”
“You’re in an awfully good mood today.” Nick broke away from her grasp and headed to the kitchen.
“Why shouldn’t I be? I’m going on a date with my boyfriend. He even made me –” she glanced at the table as she rounded the corner – “leftover Chinese food. Ooh!” Her voice dripped with playful sarcasm.
Nick gave her a thumbs-up and an exaggerated wink. “I heated it up myself.” He dropped a pair of reusable chopsticks next to her plate, then another set next to his. “And afterward, I have ice cream in the fridge. Milked the cows down the street and everything.” Not like there were any cows within a hundred miles of his apartment. To be honest, he’d purchased the cherry and chocolate tub on his way home from the gas station. This was LA – no one made food from scratch here.
“Such a gentleman,” Suki teased back.
Nick couldn’t help his grin. Clint may have all the wealth he could handle and be invited to all the finest parties in town, but Nick was convinced none of it would make him truly happy. Not like Nick was in that moment.
Work on the second stage started early the next day. It was a 4 a.m. call for Nick, and Suki was already there when he arrived. To nobody’s surprise, Clint hadn’t arrived yet. The actor would still have to spend time in makeup before they could start shooting, and Nick had choreography to learn.
“What’s the plan?” Nick asked Brandon, the choreographer, as he went through his warm-up and stretching routine.
“Doing the airplane scene today.”
That meant aisles. Linear combat always felt unrealistic to Nick, but at least there would be plenty of props. “Gotcha.”
“He starts seated,” Brandon informed him the moment Nick gave the nod. “Rachelle, can you – thanks.”
Anticipating the request, the production assistant unfolded two chairs on the practice stage.
Brandon slid one on either side of the parallel lines of tape and sat in the one farther behind. “Bryan, come from behind. Knife to the throat, hand over the other shoulder.”
Nick could see where this was going – a shoulder toss into the aisle. It would be a difficult maneuver to execute from a sitting position in real life, much less get him to land that direction in the aisle. But he had worked with Bryan before, and trusted the man to aim his fall accordingly.
Brandon hadn’t stopped talking. “One hand on the wrist, the other hand –” yup, leading to a throw – “and it’s a throw, disarm, and stand all at once. Got it?” He did the move in the air slowly to demonstrate, and Nick matched him. There was no substitute for muscle memory in what he did.
Bryan nodded, but Nick had a question. “On the disarm, knuckles up or down?”
“Up. You want to be ice-picking it.”
“Gotcha.” Nick practiced the gesture again as Brandon continued.
“Reaction shot.” Brandon gave a little jazz hands flutter. “Bryan, you’re going to try to get up. Nick, cross step into the aisle on his hand.” He looked at Bryan. “That keeps you down.” His gaze shifted to Steve, who had been silent thus far. “And you start to stand up.” Eyes back to Nick. “Step left, outward windmill to put him back in his chair. Step right, follow with a knife to the heart.”
Easy enough. “One gesture or two?”
In answer, Brandon snapped his fingers in quick succession. “One and a half? Synchronizing hands with the feet but don’t stop moving.”
“You want to run it so far?”
Nick moved to the seat Brandon had vacated. “Sure.”
Rachelle approached again, this time with a collapsible knife for Bryan. Behind her, a group of three older men were gathered, murmuring to each other. They were recognizable: one was the film’s producer and another director. It wasn’t unheard of to have the pair on set, but normally Nick worked with the assistant director.
The third was unfamiliar but stood out in his sharp suit. Either a lawyer or very new to the set and trying to look his best. No, that grimace read of confidence, not nerves. Lawyer, then.
“Whenever you’re ready, Nick.”
They didn’t have to announce that the first run-through was at half speed. The practice would look lame to their new audience, but they’d understand. The director and producer, anyway.
It was more work to disarm Bryan than to throw him. Cross step put Nick’s right foot beside his friend’s hand for now. Steve glanced back before starting to stand.
Turning in one slow motion, Nick stalled. “Which shoulder?”
Nick continued as if there had never been an interruption, forearm across Steve’s throat. The man fell back into his seat as the knife followed him, collapsing just above Steve’s heart.
“One and a half,” Brandon corrected. Right. Separately, slower, added more drama to the moment. “Again?”
Nick spun and offered a hand up to Bryan, who took it.
They ran the sequence twice more before moving to full speed.
“Great!” Brandon clapped his hands once. “Ready to move on?”
“I’m good,” Steve smirked. His choreography was literally just to die.
Nick wasn’t the only one who laughed.
“Okay, so this next part is going to be all one shot, all the way to the cockpit.”
One of their audience cleared his throat audibly. Nick couldn’t help glancing that direction, but couldn’t tell which one had made the noise.
Brandon had obviously chosen to ignore the interruption, so Nick did too. “Now while you’re bent over killing Steve, Jeff, you’re going to open the overhead bin and konk him with it.”
Nick was getting into position when their audience cleared his throat again, more obviously trying to get their attention. The lawyer, Nick decided. The other two knew better. They’d either wait their turn or come out and say whatever it is that brought them there. Time was money, and the lawyer was the only one who would put on a front to be polite about it.
“Can it wait?” Brandon asked boldly. Everyone else treated the “suits” with respect, but Brandon was very no-nonsense when it came to protecting his crew and their time. Nick was sure he wasn’t alone in appreciating that. “We just got started.”
“I’m afraid it can’t,” the lawyer stepped forward with haughty bravado.
“Fine.” Brandon turned to address Nick and the crew. “Go over the office fight. I’ll be –”
“Actually, it’s Nicholas we need, not you.” The director this time.
Nick was surprised the man even knew his name.
Then the reality of the request struck him like a gut punch. Him? What could they possibly want with him Memories of Suki’s accusations of being fired flashed through his imagination, but they had no cause. “Me?” He glanced to Brandon, who shrugged. “Okay.”
The walk to the producer’s office was unhurried, but the way the lawyer kept looking at him, Nick couldn’t help but feel like he was a kid in trouble.
The group stopped short of the door, lawyer spinning to address Nick directly. “By entering this room now, you are agreeing to two conditions.” Yup, definitely a lawyer. Any lingering doubts about Nick’s earlier conclusion were dashed. “First is that you do not address my client. That means you do not speak, gesture, or otherwise attempt to communicate with him. Understood?”
“Can I look at the dude?” Sarcasm dripped from Nick’s lips before he could stop it.
The lawyer was all seriousness. “Best not to, but I cannot stop you on that point.”
Okay then. “You said there were two points?”
“Yes. The second is that you agree never to speak about the contents of this meeting outside this room to anyone public or private, regardless of the outcome of said meeting. Are we agreed?”
Well they definitely had Nick’s attention now. “No talking. Got it.” Nick nodded at the closed door. “Carry on.”
The director and producer shared a glance, then the latter pushed the door open.
The office itself looked like it had been a temporary-turned-permanent assignment. The room was small for the pair of couches within, but with a nice enough desk and movie posters found on the wall. The most obvious was a big one just behind his seat – mostly black with half an alien face and a lens flare. The Nesting Place. Nick vaguely recalled it winning – or at least being nominated for – some award or other.
On his right, next to the door so that it was last to cross Nick’s line of sight was a bunch of clothes and a wig. As he looked, Nick saw the pile shift – straighten – and become a person. Not just any person.
And his lawyer wanted to speak with Nick.
The producer sat at his desk, and the lawyer next to Clint. Soon the last seat available was next to the director, across from Nick’s doppelganger and the lawyer. Nick shut the door behind himself and slid into the available spot. It felt like a showdown at high noon from some western. Except the clock read just past 5:15 a.m.
The lawyer broke the silence first. “Mr. Schreiber is prepared to offer you thirty-thousand dollars.”
Wow. A considerable amount.
It also told Nick that he wasn’t in trouble for anything. On the contrary, Clint and his lawyer needed something from him.
“Fifty,” Nick countered. Worth a shot.
The producer leaned forward. “He hasn’t even given terms yet.”
“Does it include jail time?” He was speaking to a lawyer, after all. “Or anything that could get me sentenced to jail for any length of time?” he added hurriedly.
Nick was shocked to hear a slight hesitation before the lawyer’s response. “No.” A brief glance at Clint, who hadn’t budged, chin still to his chest. “Forty.”
Nick already made a living letting his body get beat up on in order to make Clint look good. What more could they ask? “Deal.”
The director held a hand up. “First, explain what you’re asking.”
“Mr. Schreiber had a mix up with his medication last night.” Everyone in the room knew that meant he was caught doing drugs. Nick wasn’t exactly surprised. “The judge has agreed to keep this off the public record on two conditions. First, that he pays a hefty fine –” a brief eyebrow raise there – “which Mr. Schreiber has already provided. And second is that he goes on a mandatory vacation –” rehab – “for two weeks.”
“Starting when?” Nick felt compelled to ask. They only had three weeks left in shooting. The only way out of the predicament was to postpone the rehab. Not that Nick particularly cared.
“8 a.m.” That’s why they were rushing him at rehearsal.
The director next to Nick turned to the producer. “Now I figure we can buy a day and a half, at most, before we run out of scenes without him.” Clint was the star, after all. It made sense, as he was in practically every scene. “Two, if you want me to talk to the writers.”
“Why am I here?” Nick felt compelled to ask. All this sounded like a whole lot of not-his-problem.
The producer found a sheet of paper on his desk and held it up to read it. “Your resume says you took a great deal of acting classes while you were in college?” Improv, mostly, but it turned out that as much as he enjoyed the style, he didn’t have the knack for the comedic part of the art.
“Yes, I –”
Then their whole plan smacked Nick in the face like a brick wall. They needed two of Clint in order to keep his reputation intact and the movie on schedule.
“You want me to act?” He was the stunt double for a reason! “To be him on camera?”
“And off,” the producer corrected.
“Excuse me?” The movie was one thing, but to pretend to be him? He’d said no one outside of the people in that room was allowed to know. They wanted t lie to the cast and crew, too.
“You’ll have every accommodation, of course. Use his trailer, ride home with his driver….”
“I’m not sleeping in his bed,” Nick contested flat out. By reputation alone, he wanted nothing to do with those sheets.
“Then you’re open to the rest of the proposal?” the lawyer responded quickly.
“It’d be like a vacation, and it wouldn’t cost you a dime,” the producer pointed out.
“Plus another forty thousand dollars at the end. Assuming you abide by the contract, of course,” the lawyer corrected subtly.
“Does this include public appearances?” Nate asked, remembering the TV show and party yesterday.
“Anywhere he’s agreed to go, you go in his stead.”
“And what happens to Nick in the meantime?” Nick asked. Actually being in two places at once was as impossible for him as it would be for Clint.
The producer leaned forward at his desk. “Paid time off, officially.”
“I figure ‘Nick’ can have a minor injury, and ‘Clint’ can do some of his own stunts during the recovery,” the director chimed in. “I’ll let you figure out how.”
They’d really thought all this through, hadn’t they? Nick searched his mind for any reason to say no, but the money, the work, and the public acknowledgment of his talents, the life – there was too much he wanted to say yes to.
Nick realized they were all, including Clint, watching him expectantly. “Let’s do it,” he shrugged.
“I’ll draw up the contract,” the lawyer announced with a glance at the clock.
“And I’ll get some of the dailies sent to his trailer.” The director started to stand before looking down on Nick. “And you need a haircut.”
The producer clapped his hands from behind his desk, looking straight at Nick. “Welcome to the team, Clint Schreiber.”