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Sunday, 29 January 2012

“The First Punch”

I love being a stuntwoman. LOVE IT.  One week I could be drowning, the next, throwing myself off a tall building, there’s no telling where my feet might end up if they land upright at all!  But there are days, like today, when my brain is rattling from a fight sequence, my body all bruised and sore that I can’t help wondering if I should have chosen a more anodyne career.  A librarian perhaps, or maybe a Florist, anything that requires my feet to be at ground level for a good proportion of the day.  Ok perhaps not a Librarian or Florist (admirable career choices by themselves) but I get hayfever and the temptation to karate-chop the encyclopaedia section would be too great!
‘What's wrong with you two?  Getting old?’
Sam, the stunt-co-ordinator is just too funny for words.  Using the little strength I have left I haul my arse off the floor and throw Sam a daggered glare, which he expertly ignores.
‘When I was your age I could...’
‘Wrestle lions with your own hands,’ I intercept, ‘leap over buildings…’ 
Sam doesn’t laugh.  ‘Don't get smart with me Harriet Quinn and wipe that grin off your face Matthews.’
I swear Sam has eyes in the back of his head.  I wink encouragingly at my sparring partner; he returns the gesture by going cross-eyed.  I snort out a laugh.  
‘I’m glad you two find this amusing because we still have two more hours to go.’
‘WHAT!!! But...  I thought...  You said...’ I’m spluttering. 
‘Your point Harry?’ 
‘I- I’ll co-llapse!’ And I’m not exaggerating.
‘You!  You’re as strong as an Ox.’
This isn’t the response I was aiming for but exhaustion is not part of Sam’s vocabulary.  At sixty-one Sam Yuen is considered one of the top-ten fight choreographers in the world demanding dedication for perfection from anyone who is lucky enough to work with him and I do appreciate it, really I do, it’s just… 
I resist the childish urge to stamp my feet.  To think there was a time when I could twist Sam around my little finger and he would call me his little muffin puffin.  I drag my tired body to the middle of the floor and take up the fighting stance.  I don’t see I have much choice in the matter, Sam could run me down in a second if I decide to abscond and if I want to get out of here and into the luxury bath I’ve been promising myself all day I'd do well to keep my mouth shut.  Luke I notice does the same.
Sam is my dad’s closest, oldest, dearest friend, they were stuntmen together back in the day, as was my mum.  I guess you could say it runs in my blood but when my mum died my dad gave it up.  I was too young to remember much about that time although I do have one vivid memory that encapsulates the fun they all had back then; a bright summers day in the middle of an airfield with a rickety old “Boeing Stearman” each taking turns to strap themselves on the roof for a loop the loop (this type of escapade being in the normal parameters of a day out to me) I sat on top of the car cheering and clapping thinking it was all just for me.  My mum’s death didn’t occur on an airfield or film set, nothing nearly so dramatic, she was hit by a car while crossing the road.  It wasn’t until I was older that I felt the full impact of my loss.  Dad at the time was intent on hiding himself from the rest of the world and me for that matter because at four years old I really didn’t have much choice.  He bought a remote farm in the middle of Devon; all the more strange considering my dad is a Californian by birth although my mum originally hailed from Devon so I guess that’s where the idea came from.  Sam wasn’t about to let his best friend become a recluse and convinced him to transform the farm into a stunt school. 
I suppose he has my eternal gratitude, I grew up surrounded by people being set on fire, having sword fights in my backyard - exciting stuff to an inquisitive tomboy so I guess it was pretty inevitable that I would follow in my his footsteps.  
Tall, dark, handsome Luke Matthews popped into my life when I was twenty and perfecting my high falls, while he was perfecting his pulling technique.  Ten years on and some things never change.  I love him dearly but he has the most appalling track record where women are concerned.  Like most men he prefers variety to be the spice of life.  He’s never dared make a move on me, actually now I come to think about it why hasn’t he tried it on with me?  I’m not sure if I should be relieved or affronted?  
Relieved of course.  Definitely relieved.
One thing I can tell you about the stunt world (which will come as no surprise) that it is very much a male dominated environment.  Luckily I have always been considered ‘one-of-the-lads’ a calculated decision on my part and as a result I slavishly earned the respect I fought for (literally and twice as hard).  So after years of survival in this privy testosterone driven micro-world I have a curious insight into the male psyche and really it’s no wonder I’m still single. 
Boys are annoying, feckless and basic.  
The film industry breeds men who are more interested in spinning you a line then leaving as soon as someone bustier and erm blonder comes along.  OK so I had one bad experience. 
I’m just not the sort of woman men go for.  I’m ok with that I don’t need them either.   
Apparently I scare men away, all five-feet-four of me.  I come across too aggressive, too opinionated and my best friend tells me I seriously need to ditch the grunge teenage look.  I’m twenty-eight.
But enough of this nonsense, I can’t believe I’m even thinking about the lack of decent men in the world when I have more pressing issues to contend with, like kicking Luke’s butt.
Pulling my shoulders back I clench my fists in front of me and prepare to take aim which is when I notice Luke has dropped his stance and is looking into the blackened distance beyond.  I swivel around to see what all the fuss is about and come to an abrupt halt.  The fuss comes in the delectable shape of Alex Canty. 
Delectable!  Now where the hell did that come from?  Believe me ‘delectable’ isn’t a word I use when referring to the male species.
It’s the first time I have seen the actor in the flesh and not mounted on a billboard or appearing larger than life on a cinema screen somewhere and it isn’t difficult to see why he tops the ‘Sexiest Males Alive’ polls and I always thought I was immune to good looks.  
The actor strolls towards us and not once does he look in my direction but I can’t take my eyes off him, merely out of curiosity what with him being such a huge star it’s hard not to!  He is dressed in the colour favoured by the rich and famous - black.  Black bomber-jacket zipped up to the collar, black sweatpants, black trainers and a black woolly hat, which he takes off and stuffs into his back pocket.  His customary bleached blond hair has been cut really short and I can’t decide if he looks like he has stepped off the front cover of a magazine or about to rob a bank?  Oddly enough bank robber seems more fitting.  He has a dangerous aura about him, animal-like, I would prefer to say ape-like but his swagger is more that of a Black Panther.  He walks like a hunter stalking its prey, the prey being Luke.  I dart a look at Luke but far from appearing worried my friend is grinning like a goofball.
‘You’re an arse Luke,’ the actor says breaking into a spine-melting smile.  
Spine-melting!  Now I’m annoying myself.
The actor turns his attention to Sam and holds up his hands,  ‘Sorry Sam.  I got here as quick as I could.’
Yeah sure you did I want to say.  I don’t.  Like a lot of stars he thinks he can just waltz in whenever he feels like it as if the world simply revolves around him.  Sam will put him straight.
‘No worries,’ Sam waves away the apology, my jaw drops.
I watch as the two men shake hands with visible fondness.  Sam is becoming hypocritical in his old age there is no way he would let Luke or me waltz in several hours late.
‘I would have got here sooner...’ the actor shrugs his shoulders, which are broad and just the right amount of muscle too.  
Urghhh…What has gotten in to me?  Nice arms too.... well you know...toned.  Yuk…I’m even making myself gag. 
I fold my arms and raise a questionable brow; because no one is paying me the slightest bit of attention I’ve become invisible
‘No sweat,’ Sam asserts.  ‘Besides it’s given me a chance to work with Luke and Harry.’
That’s me I nearly shout, only managing an involuntary semi salute instead (what the hell was that? Now I just look plain weird, “commandant F. Spencer at your service…if you please” I’m such an un-cool buffoon).  The actor continues to ignore me, well he might as well since the inconsequential nod of his head isn't exactly inviting.  He turns his attention back to Luke and little ole me can take a running jump.  Insolent pretty boy can go and **** himself, he’s just delaying my rendezvous with a bubbly bath and a glass of vino. 
‘I’ve got a bone to pick with you Matthews where the hell did you run to the other night?’
‘I can explain,’ Luke chuckles holding his hands up in mock surrender.  ‘She told me she was your biggest fan I thought you’d be pleased.’
‘Is this the lingerie model?’ Sam shakes his head with amusement.
‘Too right,’ Luke leers, ‘and what a beauty.’ And as if his point needs to be accentuated further he uses his hands to suggest just how beautiful.
I prop my hands on my hips and fume as the men, which has as much effect as before.  OK so I'm not exactly looking my best right now - shoot me why don’t you.  I just happen to have spent five gruelling hours sweating my butt off, give me a break.  Admittedly the grey-marl sweatpants and faded red T-shirt have seen better days and with a face free of make-up and shiny with perspiration I'm hardly going to stop traffic or could I? Knowing my luck probably a sympathetic pest control van would come screeching to an emergency halt and direct me to “quarantine”.  But surely I'm not totally nondescript at minimum I normally warrant a sly suggestive once over, well a far more enthusiastic inspection than this? Inspection! What is this an open day for the F.Spencer regiment?  I don’t need a man to inspect anything.  Get a grip muffin!
Long ago I accepted that I was no real beauty not in the conventional way, my nose is way too big but I have a wide smile, which I always thought balanced it out reasonably well.  If my arm was twisted and I was forced to choose one feature I liked best then I would have to say my eyes: large, wide-set, and the colour of melted dark chocolate framed with enviously long black lashes my best friend gushed after one too many chardonnays. (Okay this is a drunken female frame of reference but it is a reference!)  Of course that is what best friend’s are for but Marissa isn’t here so it's up to me to remind myself that I have a good body to boot not Victoria Secrets but the curves I do possess are in the right places.  Sure it would be nice to have a bit more up top bigger than a B-cup and longer legs…
I yank my ponytail violently, what is wrong with me?  I’m standing here like a spare lemon who didn’t quite make it into lemonade, what do I care-that some dumb actor isn’t bowled over by my err…unique beauty, his loss and all that!  
One day I will meet a man who is… tolerable and if that doesn’t happen then I’ll settle as the eccentric stunt spinster with a cat or two and a chip on my shoulder which I can easily kick off if I choose. 
I gather up my hair and pull it back into a more respectable ponytail vowing the moment filming is over to get it cut, a shoulder length bob or maybe I’ll just shave it off.  I’m just done when I notice six pair of eyes on me but only one pair has a peculiar affect on my knees. I’m getting oh so slightly worried.  I hope I haven’t the early stages of arthritis! I fold my arms across my chest and give the three men an impatient glower.  ‘Yes?’ 
This amuses Sam.  ‘When you’re quite finished fiddling with your hair I want to introduce you to Alex Canty.   I was just telling Alex you are doubling for Felicity Hall.’ 
Before I can form any appropriate niceties Luke opens his big mouth.  ‘I suppose Alex has you mesmerised huh Harry?’
‘Why is he some sort of hypnotist?’ I smart, and never knowing when to stop. ‘It will take more than some bimbo actor to turn my eye.’ The words are out before I have a chance to rein them in and I hear the collective gasp just as Luke’s raucous laughter kicks-in. ‘Oh Harry you’re priceless.’
I have an overwhelming urge to kick Luke very hard in the shin, bypassing his toothy grin and Sam’s astonished gaze I give the actor my friendliest smile. 
‘No offence intended.’
‘None taken.’
And knock me down with a feather he seems to mean it to. 
The actor takes a step towards me and I am forced to look up; six-foot-two I remember reading in a magazine once.  Not that I’ve read much about him.  Hmm let’s see, born in Lexington, Kentucky, parents divorced, childhood split between the UK and America, studied drama at Guildford London then moved to California and became a huge TV star playing Doctor Mel Keaton before moving into films and solidifying his place as an A-list movie star.  I have this uncanny ability to remember the most useless trivia.  You would too if you spent most girls nights sober because you had an early call to dive in freezing rivers or wrestle a maniac on high scaffolding.  Hangovers aren’t exactly conducive to balance.
The actor thrusts out his hand.  ‘Very nice to meet you Harriet.’ 
‘Its Harry actually,’ I correct. Reluctantly I slip my hand into his.  It’s a strong handshake, firm without being aggressive and not altogether unpleasant. 
His eyes twinkle back at me, they actually twinkle and they are an incredibly blue colour reminiscent of the waters on the Persian Gulf.
‘Enchanted,’ he says lifting my hand to his lips and kissing it. What is going on?  Does he think this is the set of Mad Men and I’m interviewing for a secretarial post?  I dart a glance at Sam and Luke and I can see they’re enjoying this. 
‘We haven’t gone through the wardrobe into a land of enchantment,’ I snap, pulling my hand from his.
‘You’re wasting your time if you think your charms will work on our Harry,’ Sam chortles.
‘Yeah Harry will eat you for breakfast,’ Luke adds for good measure. 
‘Is that right,’ the actor cocks his head to one side and gives me a speculative look.  Now that I have his attention I wish I didn’t, his eyes keep twinkling at me. 
‘Maybe I might like that?’  Luke and Sam laugh but I don’t see anything remotely amusing in his smarmy presumptions.
‘You don't look much like a stunt-woman?’
‘You don’t look much like an actor?’  I smart.  My words amuse him somehow I knew they would.  
‘And pray tell me, what do I look like?’ 
‘A bad excuse for a bank robber.’ There I go again, speaking before thinking.  This seems to have everyone in stitches, which is doing nothing to appease my mood.
‘Told you Harry wouldn’t be swayed by your charms,’ Luke goads.
Ignoring Luke I fix my eyes on the actor determined to overcome this unwelcome attraction because he’s the sort of man that lures foolish women and I’m not foolish.  At least I like to think I’m not. 
‘I suppose I don’t strike people as the type to fling myself out of windows onto moving motors but looks are always deceiving.’ With that little riposte I hope he realises I won’t flounder to his cajoling
‘I couldn’t agree more.’
I’d definitely say he’s flirting with me.  I scowl at him to show I’m not impressed.  He gives me a devilish grin in return.
‘OK kids,’ Sam interrupts, clearly wanting to get things moving again.  ‘Luke you can call it a night but Harry I need you to stay on.’  I open my mouth to refuse but Sam puts his hands together as if in prayer.  ‘I want to run over the new fight sequence half an hour tops,’ and knowing precisely which buttons to press he shrugs and says, ‘unless, you don’t think you’re up to it?’ Knowing full well that I would insist on doing it just to prove him wrong.  Curse my indignant pride. 
‘Sure, whatever,’ I shrug.
But Alex hesitates.  ‘You want me to throw Harry over my shoulders?’ 
‘Er, Yes.’ Sam replies.   
‘And expect Harry to throw me over her shoulders?’ 
‘Er, Yes.’ Sam smiles, ‘Is there a problem?’
‘I wouldn’t want to hurt Harry?’
I am shocked into muteness.  I don’t think I have ever had an actor concerned for my welfare before.  Obviously I’m annoyed, after all I’m a professional stunt woman and hurting comes with the territory but … okay I’m kind of flattered… what am I saying!  For goodness sake stop now, he’s more fake than rubber cheese.
I wouldn’t worry about our Harry,’ Sam insists.
‘Yeah Harry’s one tough cookie.’ Luke adds and gives me a hard slap on the back causing me to stumble forward.  Luke should be on a bloody pirates ship one more slap and they’ll be Ohoying there me mateys! 
Alex looks even less convinced.
‘Mr Canty,’ I say finding my footing.
‘Alex,’ he says.
‘Alex,’ I ground out.  ‘You seem to forget that you haven’t warmed up yet whereas I have been here for FIVE hours.’  That last bit of information I threw in for Sam’s acknowledgement, Sam just shakes his head he’s heard it all before.
‘But you're tiny,’ his tone is incredulous.  ‘You couldn't possible throw a big guy like me?’
Now I’m just pissed off.  ‘Don't mistake tiny for being weak.’  I put my hands on my hips and stare him down.  He still looks unconvinced.
‘She’s right,’ Luke says becoming serious.  ‘To be honest mate I’d be more worried about yourself.’
‘Besides it's my job,’ I almost spit the words out.
‘I know but…’
Deciding to take matters into my own hands I step forward so that I'm directly facing him and grab the lapels of his jacket.  With a quick swift tug I bring him clean over my shoulders and flat onto his back.  I've done it with such finesse that I take him and judging by the deathly silence in the room Luke and Sam by surprise - Well he did ask for it!  
An inappropriate giggle bubbles to the surface, which I only manage to suppress by clamping both hands over my mouth.  I lean over and give the A-list actor a quick once over just to check I haven't done any serious damage.  Except for a slightly dazed expression on his face he looks fine.  More than fine.
‘Harriet Annabel Sophia Quinn!’ 
I freeze.  Shit!  Now I’m in trouble and quite possibly out of a job.  I’ve decided it’s worth it just to see the look on the actors face.  
‘What the hell was that?’
I square my shoulders and turn to face Sam’s wrath, to my relief he’s smiling although he’s trying hard not to. 
‘I was just showing Mr Can-… Alex here that I'm not as fragile as I look.’  I give Sam a wide-eyed innocent look.  He isn’t fooled for a second.  I look at Luke and he is chuckling away softly but with Sam watching me like I hawk I don’t dare join in.  I bite down hard on my lips and turn my attention to the floor.  We all do.  
Alex is still lying there but no longer wearing the dazed expression, our eyes lock and I suddenly have the strangest feeling I might have bitten off more than I can chew.  
I shrug the feeling away.  ‘You’re cool, aren’t you… Alex?’  
‘Yeah, I’m cool Harry,’ he says, mimicking my Devonian twang as he pulls himself up onto his elbows.’  
I’m not sure I like how quickly he has recovered.
‘Are you going to help me up?’ He thrusts out his hand.  ‘Well?’ He persists when I continue to stare dumbly at it.  
I want to tell him in no polite terms to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine but the sharp look from Sam is enough to tell me that I’d better do as I am told. I smile sweetly and take his outstretched hand ignoring the warm tingling sensation pooling in the pit of my stomach.  Now that he’s on his feet he’s far too close for comfort.  For a long uncomfortable moment he doesn’t let go of my hand. I grit my teeth, fighting the impulse to look away.  He flips my palm over and starts stroking the inside of my wrist with his thumb, being deliberately provocative. ‘You really shouldn’t bite your nails,’ he remarks.
I yank my hand free. ‘So you’re up for the round shoulder trip eh! This time I won’t be so gentle.’ 
The actor throws back his head and laughs.  It’s an attractive laugh, deep, strong and sexy, just like him. God I’m pathetic.  
‘I don’t bite my nails. I keep them short so not to cause any undue harm to my treasured work colleagues. Wouldn’t want to scratch their scrotums now would I?’  I throw a look at Luke for support.
‘And very wise too,’ Luke responds swiftly.   ‘We all know just how harmful female nails can be on the jiggley bits.’
I roll my eyes, and it’s evident the way Alex barks out an almighty guffaw that he shares the same juvenile humour as Luke.  Might as well be in the prep room of a public boys school.  I glare at both of them but it has no visible effect.  All Sam can offer is a sympathetic boys will be boys shrug of the shoulders.  
‘I bet that's the first time a woman has swept you off your feet,’ Luke sniggers.
‘I was caught unaware that’s all,’ Alex replies.
‘I take it you won't mind going over the moves with Harry now?’ Sam asks doing is very best to keep the amusement out of his voice.  He turns to me wagging his finger.  ‘Properly this time.’
I give Sam a sweet smile although it’s possible it comes across as a grimace.  ‘Sure.’ 
‘Luke, what are you still here?’ Sam asks. ‘If you really want to stay on I’m sure I could find…’ But he doesn't get to finish because Luke has pulled on his jacket, flung his sports bag over his shoulder and made a hasty retreat for the door.  ‘Eight AM sharp’ Sam yells after him.
‘Sure thing boss.’ He throws us a final salute.  ‘Have fun kids.’  
I reluctantly drag my gaze away from the door and sneak a peak at Alex immediately wishing I hadn’t.  The actor has pulled his jacket and sweater over his head and caused his T-shirt to ride up over his chest treating me to a glimpse of his famous muscled torso.  He’s such a show-off.
‘I’m…um…  I'm just going to get some water.’  I practically trip over myself in my eagerness to get away.   
He’s just a lousy actor with a good body I tell myself sitting down on the bench with a gloomy thud.  Since when do I get all dreamy about a man’s body?  OK great body, I admit grudgingly.  I grab the bottled water from my bag and take a swig most of it escaping out of the corners of my mouth and trickling down my neck.  I wipe the spills with the back of my hand and force myself to slow down and breathe.  The last thing I need are hiccups and it’s not as if I’m in any particular hurry to get back.  What I don’t get is, why him?  I have over the years seen many great bodies it’s inevitable when you work and train with some of the fittest men around so why should his be any different?  It’s not I tell myself determined to squash whatever I’m feeling down.  I toss the bottle back into my bag and stand up. I’m a professional stuntwoman.  I tug at my sweatpants, which are sticking to my bottom. If I can fling myself out of a helicopter onto a moving train then I can deal with Alex Canty.  No Sweat!   

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