Don't Look Down Read online

  Then Nash untied the six-foot loop of climbing rope attached to the other end of the cable and clipped the cable directly to a tie-down point on the floor of the chopper, and Wilder tensed again.

  That wasn't right. The rope was the cushioning for the steel cable, one-third stretch built into the nylon. Without the rope, the steel cable had no play at all. If Bryce fell out, the cable would keep him from splatting onto the road below, but the snap of the abrupt halt eight feet down could break his back. Wilder had seen the rig on the bridge and this was different. There was no need for different.

  Nash was stuffing the loop of rope back into his kit bag. Wilder put his hand on the bag and his head next to Nash's and yelled over the sound of the rotors, "What are you doing?"

  Nash glared at him. "Bryce is going to put his feet on the skids of the chopper," he yelled back. "He's going to have three points of contact with the aircraft at all times. The cable is just a safety."

  Bryce looked over his shoulder. "What's going on?" His voice was almost drowned out by the sound of the blades, and he was definitely green now.

  Wilder gave him a thumbs-up and turned back to Nash. "Why'd you take the rope off?"

  "He doesn't need it."

  "It's part of the gear, right?"

  "Yeah, but we don't want it caught on film and it adds three extra feet of fall and we're going to be low and I don't want him scraping along if he does fall."

  "What are you guys talking about?" Bryce yelled. "J.T.?"

  He sounded scared. Damn it, Wilder thought. Why was Nash dick ing with things? "Everything's fine," he yelled to Bryce. "We're almost set." He tried to pull the kit bag out of Nash's hands, but the stunt coordinator hung on.

  "The slack rope goes back on," Wilder yelled.

  "It's my stunt."

  Nash glared at him, and Wilder held his eyes. Come on, don't make me take it away from you. Put the rope back on.

  Nash looked away, out at the horizon. "All right. All right." He took the rope loop out and hooked it up again. Then he leaned forward and tapped Bryce on the shoulder. "We can still put Wilder in your place," he yelled.

  Bryce's face was pale and damp, but he shook his head.

  Wilder stuck his head next to the other two. "Really. It's no sweat, Bryce. I've lost count of the number of aircraft I've hung out of or jumped from. Normal part of my workday."

  Bryce swallowed as he glanced out the open door to the ground. He shook his head firmly. Wilder had seen that look before, when he'd been a jumpmaster for inexperienced jumpers. Bryce was scared but he had made up his mind to do it. Wilder glanced at Nash, who looked none too pleased.

  "Seat belt off," Nash ordered.

  Wilder watched Bryce fumble with the buckle and realized that the actor's hands were shaking badly now. Probably should have stuck with comedy.

  Wilder checked the outside. They were already a half mile down the road and the car was less than ten feet in front of them. The camera truck was about fifty feet in front of that. The road was perfectly straight. It should be simple.

  Nash yelled to Bryce, "Okay, mate, feet on the skids."

  Bryce turned toward the open door and cautiously slid his feet out, searching for the skid by feel, trying to look down.

  "Eyes on the horizon," Wilder yelled. He pointed over Bryce's shoulder. "Look at those towers." He kept his eyes on Bryce edging his way out the door and in his peripheral vision kept a lock on their relative position with the picture car. Althea was looking over her shoulder at them. Maybe she'd be impressed that was Bryce out on the skid and fall back into his bed.

  Nash stuck his head out the back door to do a quick check on where Bryce's feet were. Wilder resisted the urge to give him a nudge out the door since he didn't have a safety cable.

  "Okay, mate," Nash yelled to Bryce. "Put your weight on your feet. Don't worry, we've got the cable just in case. And the chopper will be steady. Right, Karen?"

  "Roger that," the pilot said.

  "Now point the gun at the car," Nash yelled.

  Wilder watched as Bryce awkwardly tried to aim the gun, but it was obvious the actor's entire focus was on the hand holding on to the chopper's door frame, not the one holding the MP-5. Well, he'd still give him points for effort. Bryce might be an idiot, but he was a game idiot. "Looking good, Bryce," he yelled and then sat back.

  It was going to be a very long afternoon.


  Below them, Lucy had checked with the EMT's leaning against the ambulance at the end of the toad, making sure they were the real deal and not some scam Connor had cooked up to cut costs. Reassured, she went back and sat down at the monitors beside Daisy and Pepper, who were squinting up at the sky.

  "Is J.T. in that helicopter?" Pepper asked, handing her an apple.

  "Yep," Lucy said, taking it. "Thank you. He's going to be okay, Pepper, he's probably jumped out of a hundred helicopters-"

  "Nice day for a disaster," Gloom said, sitting down on the other side of her.

  Daisy grinned at him, and Lucy felt better than she had since they'd pulled into the base camp lot two days ago. Mission accomplished, she thought as she bit into her apple. Or it would be as soon as she got Daisy out of there the day after tomorrow.

  "Hello, Gloom," Pepper sang out.

  "Hello, Peppermint. Taken any walks lately?"

  "No," Pepper said. "I am staying right here, and watching J.T., and looking for my ghost."

  "All right then." Lucy picked up her headphones. "How we doin' out there?" she said to Gloom.

  "Ask me when the stunts are over," Gloom said.

  Above them, Wilder edged his way out onto the skid, holding on for dear life as the wind beat at his tiger stripes.

  "Funny," Gloom said, squinting up at him. "I thought he'd be more dashing than that."

  "You try being dashing on a helicopter skid," Lucy said, but she was disappointed, too. From down here, Wilder's body language pretty much communicated "terrified." So much for her secret weapon.

  Well, he was still impressive on the ground.

  "He's probably just being extra careful," Daisy said, her voice doubtful.

  "Ready when you are," Connor said over the headphones.

  Gloom stood up. ''Here we go," he called to the set. "Stand by."

  "Roll sound," Lucy said, and listened to the set echo back, "Rolling."

  "Take one," the guy with the clapper said, snapping it shut in front of the camera.

  "Action," Lucy said and watched the copter in the monitor, Wilder standing stiffly on the skid. She put her apple down half eaten on the edge ok the monitor cart. It's not dangerous, he's cabled in-

  "Afternoon, ma'am," somebody said from behind her in a deep Cajun accent, and she jerked around to see a tall, handsome, weather-beaten man wearing aviator sunglasses and a worn leather flight jacket tipping his crumpled pilot's hat to her. She'd seen him before, she knew that, but at the moment it didn't come to her.

  "Cool sunglasses!" Pepper said.

  "Gloom." Lucy put her eyes back on the monitor, and Gloom turned toward them. "We got a gawker."

  "1 hank you very much, darlin'," the man was saying to Pepper. "And may I say, that's a very fetching outfit you have on today."

  Pepper smoothed down her WonderWear and beamed, and then he nodded to Lucy as Gloom stood up to get rid of him. "I was just wondering if you could direct me toward Captain J. T. Wilder."

  Gloom sat back down again.

  "Or failing that," the Cajun said, "a friendly actress in need of companionship. You wouldn't be a friendly actress now, would you, cheri?"

  "No, I'm the director and we're shooting a scene right now." Lucy stared at the monitor where Wilder looked positively wimpy on that skid. He really should stay on the ground, she thought. He's so good on the ground.

  "Very pleased to meet you," the man said. "I'm Rene LaFavre, J. T. Wilder's comrade-in-arms."

  "You're a friend of J.T,'s?" Pepper said, delighted. "So am I!"

  "J. T. is a m