It was two hours later, and I was standing in a shop filled with books that were all American, in the middle of the street, cameras pointing at my face, dressed in an over-starched uniform, and wondering which entity had deemed it necessary for me to be put in an insane parallel dimension.
I had tried, at first, to protest, but something about American accents makes their voices inordinately insistent. My next tactic had been escape, but the Spanish woman had grabbed me like one might grab a naughty toddler.
“Shift to the left a bit…that’s right. Now, look English.” How exactly does one look English? Does being English not make me English enough for them? Shall I eat a scone? Stroke a ginger cat? I was seriously considering throwing the snazzy little outfit they’d given me back in their faces, but it would mean stripping naked, so I didn’t.
“Lights! Camera—can someone get me lights, please! Camera! CAMERA! That’s it, concentrate! And…action!”
I fiddled with the cash register, trying to channel my inner Prince Charles. Oliver entered the ridiculously unrealistic set and glanced at me. Should I glance back? I didn’t. I decided that this shopkeeper was supercilious.
What was my line again? Oh right, I don’t have one. I stand superciliously and wait for him to approach me. I can do that.
Oliver approached me with a swagger that didn’t usually grace his step. He didn’t walk, he sauntered up to me, and leaned on the counter like some throw-back cowboy.
“I need a gun.”
Come on Edmund— “This is a bookstore, we don’t sell guns.” Come on. “Th—this is a gun store, we don’t sell…oh damn it.”
The semi-circle of people surrounding the set groaned and shook their heads in unison. They bobbed like a retreating wave, but retreat they did not. They descended on Oliver and me like a murder of crows, fidgeting with the set, our hair, Oliver’s clothing, my clothing, Oliver’s hair, Oliver’s hair, Oliver’s hair…they most certainly did like to fidget with Oliver’s hair.
He stood still through it all, mouthing apologies to me. I mouthed back that I had no idea what was going on, to which he mouthed that I should just go with the flow.
I went with the flow.
“Okay, lights! Yes, LIGHTS! Don’t make me tell you again—yes, okay. Now, camera! Well done, camera. And…action!
Oliver strolled through the set again.
Okay, now do a queen-like supercilious silence. Channel your inner Lizzie, Edmund.
“I need a gun.”
Okay Edmund. You can do it. “This is a bookstore, we don’t sell guns.” Oh, Edmund. You are wonderful. Yes, you are. Really. Oh, let me take you out sometime, you saucy chap.
Oliver’s eyes hardened. I almost stepped back. “I said,” he slammed a butcher’s knife down in front of me. “I need a gun.”
At that point, I would have given him my fingernails to make him go away, and it was only when I saw The Planet wringing his hands that I remembered we were acting.
Edmund, actor. Had a nice ring to it.
“I—okay. Please, wait here.” Hey, that was quick. You remembered. Wow.
“And…CUT! You…what’s your name?”
I jumped slightly at the abruptness of the director’s voice. “E—Edmund.”
“Yeah, great job, Edward. I’ll sign you up to do some other stuff as well.” He turned away before I could either correct or protest. Oliver’s hand fell on my shoulder, distracting me temporarily.
“Look, I’m sorry about all this. I didn’t mean to get you into it, and if anything negative comes of it…” He pushed a card into my hand. “Call me.”
I stood tongue tied as he walked away. These two days had been insane—a famous actor, in my store, and now I was a character in his most recent film, but it wasn’t any of these facts that bothered me now.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly I was sad about, but as Oliver walked away from me, possibly for the last time, there was a pang in my stomach I’d never felt before.
I decided it was probably time for lunch.
I pushed through the crowd of frighteningly arty people and struggled towards my shop like a drowning rat clawing for a life raft.
If there’s anything that can stop me in my tracks, it’s the voice of Joan. She stood directly in front of me, blocking the path from me to my door. Her legs were spaced, arms crossed, and muddy eyes fixed firmly on my face—the face of her prey. I gulped.
“Well then, Edmund.” Oh Joan. No matter how hard your body tries to look twenty, it still looks like a wrinkled fig. Please, put some clothes on. “I thought it wasn’t protocol for a shop keeper to lie to their customers?”
I put on my best pacifying voice. “Look, Joan, he asked me not to tell anyone where he was, so—“
She shoved a finger into my chest and leaned in so close to my face that I could see the hollows in her makeup where it had sunk into her pores.
“No, you look, Edmund. I don’t know what you’re up to, or what you’re planning to gain from getting into this business, but I will bring you down. Mark my words, I will bring you down hard.”
She strutted off, leaving me feeling shaky and strange. I staggered to my door and leant against it, hand over my mouth. There was something indefinably frightening about being threatened by someone as self-confident as Joan. Whatever she was going to do to me, it was going to be horrible, and worse, it would be legal. There was no way Joan would put herself in the wrong.
I glanced down at the white card dangling from my fingers, sorely tempted to call Oliver and warn him, but terrified of not being taken seriously, or worse, being taken seriously and getting myself into even worse trouble.
No. I would stick this out and weather whatever storm Joan decided to summon.
Feeling slightly sturdier, I tucked the card into my pocket and strode into my shop.