Prague, Czech Republic
“He’s going to catch fire when the motorcycle hits the back
of the overturned car?” Annja Creed asked in disbelief.
“Yeah. But the real trick is when he catches fire.” Barney
Yellowtail calmly surveyed the wrecked cars in the middle of
the narrow street between a line of four-story buildings that
had seen far better days.
“When?” Annja asked, still trying to grasp the whole idea.
“When is important,” Barney continued. He was in his
late forties, twenty years older than Annja, and had been a
stuntman for almost thirty years. “If Roy catches on fire too
late, we’ve hosed the gag.”
Gags, Annja had learned, were what stunt people called the
death-defying feats they did almost on a daily basis.
“And if you hose the gag,” Annja said, “you have to do it
over and risk Roy’s life again.”
Barney grinned. He claimed to be full-blood Choctaw
Indian from Oklahoma and looked it. His face was dark and
seamed, creased by a couple of scars under his left eye and
under his right jawline. He wore rimless glasses that darkened
in the bright sunlight, and a straw cowboy hat. His jeans and
chambray work shirt were carefully pressed. His boots were
hand-tooled brown-and-white leather that Annja thought were
to die for.
Annja was five feet ten inches tall with chestnut hair and
amber-green eyes. She had an athlete’s build with smooth,
rounded muscle. She wore khaki pants, hiking boots, a lightweight
white cotton tank under a robin’s-egg-blue blouse,
wraparound blue sunglasses and an Australian Colly hat that
she’d developed a fondness for to block the sun.
“That’s not the worst part,” Barney assured her.
“That’s not the worst part?” Annja echoed.
“Naw,” Barney replied, smiling wide enough to show a row
of perfect teeth. “The worst part is that the director will be mad.”
Barney looked at her as if sensing that she wasn’t completely
convinced. “Mad directors mean slow checks. They
also mean slow work. If you can’t hit your marks on a gag,
especially on a film that Spielberg’s underwriting, your phone
isn’t going to ring very often.”
Annja wondered if you had to be certifiable to be a stuntman.
“C’mon, Annja,” Barney said. “I’ve read about you in the
magazines, seen you on Letterman and kept up with what
you’re doing on Chasing History’s Monsters.You know life
isn’t worth living without a little risk.”
Annja knew her life hadn’t exactly been risk free. Actually,
especially lately, it seemed to go the other way. As a working
archaeologist, she’d traveled to a number of dangerous places,
and those places were starting to multiply dramatically as she
became more recognized.
She thought about her job at Chasing History’s Monsters.
Most days she wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse. The
syndicated show had high enough ratings that the producers
could send Annja a number of places that she couldn’t have
afforded on her own.
The drawback was that the stories she was asked to
cover—historical madmen, psychopaths, serial killers and
even legendary monsters—were usually less than stellar. Fans
of the show couldn’t get enough of her, but some of the people
in her field of archaeology had grown somewhat leery.
None of that, though, had come without risk.
“Okay,” Annja admitted. “I’ll give you that. But I’ve never
set myself on fire.”
“Roy’s not going to set himself on fire,” Barney said. “I’m
going to do that for him.”
“It’s just that timing is critical.” Barney stepped to one side
as his cell phone rang. “Excuse me.”
Annja nodded and surveyed the street. The film crew had
barricaded three city blocks in Prague’s Old Town. A few
streets over, the Vltava River coursed slowly by and carried
the river traffic to various destinations.
Prague was a new experience for Annja, and she was thoroughly
enjoying it. Getting the job on the movie had been as
unexpected as it was welcome. She’d done a bit of work with
props before, but never on a motion picture of this magnitude.
Kill Me Deadly was a new spy romp that was part James
Bond and part Jason Bourne. The hero even carried the same
J.B. initials—Jet Bard.
Annja hadn’t quite understood the plot because a lot of the
details were still under wraps. She was of the impression
some of them were still being worked out, which was causing
extra stress on the set.
Three cars occupied the middle of the street. Two of them
were overturned. All of them were black from where they’d
been burned. The stuntman was supposed to hit the upright car,
catch on fire and turn into a human comet streaking across the
When Annja had heard about the stunt and had received
an invitation from Barney to attend, she’d thought about
gracefully declining. Then she’d found she couldn’t stay
Now her stomach knotted in anticipation. She’d gotten to
know the young daredevil who was about to become a human
fireball. He was a nice guy and she didn’t like the idea that
something bad might happen to him.
“Okay,” Barney said as he stepped back to rejoin her. His
gaze remained on the street while he adjusted his headset.
“I’m going to need you to stay quiet for a moment, Annja.”
“Sure.” Annja gazed down the street anxiously.
Camera operators lined the street from various points of
view. All of them remained out of each other’s line of sight.
The crews had worked on the setup for hours. Before that,
they’d measured and mapped the distances on a model of the
street and the cars.
According to the computer programs Barney and the other
stunt people had run, everything would go fine. To Annja, it
was a lot like exploring a dig site she’d read about. Even
though she knew the background and the general layout, there
were far too many surprises involved to guarantee everything
was safe. Some of the early Egyptian-tomb explorers had
quickly discovered that.
“On your go,” Barney said softly. He held up an electronic
control box in both hands. “I’m with you.”He flicked a switch.
Immediately a half-dozen fires flamed to life within the
pile of wrecked cars. They burned cheerily and black smoke
twisted on the breeze.
“We’ve got fire in the hole, Roy,” Barney declared.
The throb of the motorcycle’s engine rumbled into Annja’s
ears. She watched with a mixture of dread and anticipation.
Roy Fein was one of the top stuntmen in the game. Barney
had said that a number of times over the past few days. She
didn’t know if he’d been trying to reassure her or himself.
“Steady,” Barney said. “Okay, you’re on track. Now increase
your speed to seventy-eight miles per hour.”
The exact speed had been a big concern, Annja knew. Too
much and the impact angle would be wrong and the motorcycle
might flip end over end. Too little and Roy would fall
short of the air bag that waited at the other end of the jump.
The motorcycle roared into view. Roy Fein, dressed in
dark blue racing leathers and a matching helmet, had raced
around the corner. A car followed only inches behind him.
“You’re on,” Barney said. “Hit the Volkswagen and I’m
going to light you up.”
At that moment, the pursuit car slowed and slewed
sideways. Actors inside the vehicle leaned out the windows
and fired weapons.
“I got you, kid. I got you.” Barney’s voice was soft and reassuring.
“Get that fire-suppression unit ready.”
The motorcycle rider popped a slight wheelie just before
he hit the Volkswagen. Effortlessly, the motorcycle climbed
the specially altered vehicle.
“Now,” Barney said. His finger flipped one of the switches
on the electronics box.
Immediately, the motorcycle and rider were enveloped in
flames. But something was wrong. Instead of arcing gracefully
across the distance, the motorcycle went awry.
“Kick loose, kid!” Barney yelled. “Lose the bike!” He
dropped the electronics box and ran toward the street.
Roy pushed free of the motorcycle and spread-eagled in
the air like Superman. But he wasn’t flying—he was falling.
Flames twisted and whipped around his body. He threw his
arms out and tried to adjust his fall as gravity took over and
brought him back toward the pavement.
Annja ran after Barney, though she didn’t know what she
was going to do. There was no way she could help Roy. But
she couldn’t just stand there, either.
The motorcycle spun crazily, nowhere near the trajectory
it was supposed to maintain to get near the air bag designed
to break Roy’s fall. Then it blew up.
The force slammed Annja to the ground. She tucked into
a roll and came to her feet instinctively. Slightly disoriented,
she glanced up to see where the flaming pieces of the motorcycle
were coming down. She saw Barney was on his side.
His face was twisted in agony as he reached toward a bloody
gash soaking his shirt.
Annja went toward him. She yelled for help, but couldn’t
hear her own voice. She tried again. Her ears felt numb, then
she realized she was deaf.
She dropped beside Barney and surveyed the wound. An
irregular furrow ran along his ribs. She tried to tell him that
he was going to be all right but knew that he couldn’t hear
her, either. She yanked his shirt from his pants and rolled the
tails up to his wound, then leaned on the folds to put pressure
on the wound in his side.
One of the other stunt coordinators joined Annja and
dropped to his knees. His mouth was moving. She knew he
was shouting something. He was young, tall and gangly, and
he was in shock.
Annja grabbed one of his hands and directed him to take hold
of the makeshift pressure bandage she’d created. For a moment
he froze. With authority, Annja caught his face in her palms.
She met his eyes with hers and struggled to remember his name.
“Tony,” she said. “It’s Tony, right?” She couldn’t hear herself.
“I can’t hear you,” he said.
Annja read his lips. “It’s okay,” she told him. “Your hearing
will come back.” She hoped that was true.
Sirens, muted and faraway sounding, reached her and gave
her hope that her hearing hadn’t been permanently destroyed.
Tony nodded, but he didn’t look any less scared.
“He’s hurt,” Annja told Tony. “Hold the pressure on the
wound. Like this.” She guided his hands.
“Okay,” he said. “I got it.”
“I’m going to look for a first-aid kit,” Annja shouted.
Tony nodded and held on to the rolled-up shirt.
Annja got up. Her legs were shaky. She felt her phone vibrate
in her pants pocket. Still on the move, she took the phone out
and glanced at the number. She’d been expecting a call from
Garin Braden, but the call was from New York. It was from
Doug Morrell, her producer on Chasing History’s Monsters.
She switched the phone off and returned it to her pocket.
With her hearing compromised, the last thing she needed was
a phone call.
Burning debris from the motorcycle littered the immediate
vicinity. Annja looked for Roy Fein’s body, knowing that
he might not have survived the fall and the flames. Firesuppression
teams worked the air bag’s surface. White flameretardant
foam coated the bag and made it slippery.
Some of Annja’s tension drained away when she realized
Roy had made it to the air bag. Then she saw him moving.
The distinctive motorcycle leathers bore scorch marks and
charring, but he was standing on his own two feet.
All along the street, the set teams hustled to the site. Even
with all the wreckage they’d seen and helped produce for the
movies, the shooting teams weren’t prepared for the damage
they saw now.
Without warning, another detonation occurred and the
three stunt cars erupted in flames.
The force of the explosion blew Annja from her feet and
rolled her away. A wave of heat washed over her back.
Stunned, she lay still for a moment and checked the sidewalk
around her for shadows of falling debris.
A dark mass centered over her as if she lay under a solar
eclipse. She pushed her right hand against the street and rolled
to her left. She barely made out the twisted wreckage of a
burning car falling toward her.
Mel Odom and Tim Bradstreet will be making a special appearance at the Gold Eagle booth at Comic-con in San Diego!
Gold Eagle author and artist signing details for Comic-con coming soon!