“Katherine Heigl,” Katee said. “AKA Other Katie. One of the writers told me I was Katee, but that she was Other Katie? And Ron has ISSUES with Other Katie. So why was Mary talking to Other Katie?”
“Who knows why Mary does anything?”
“Her craft, social justice, general niceness, and the desire to make sure Ron never ever gets complacent?” Katee suggested. “But apparently, JJ Abrams has a serious zombie problem. And when Roswell and Felicity were filming, there was a zombie attack on-set. It’s probably why he films in Hawaii — it’s cheaper to deal with zombies there, what with it being an island, even with the fees.”
“Is this about the time Ron had zombies?” Jamie asked, poking his head into the green room. “It made me think twice about ever working for JJ Abrams.”
“Maybe that’s why Tom Cruise hooked up with him,” Tricia mused. “Easy access to zombie girls.”
Mary was not, in fact, talking to Katie Heigl. She had hung up the phone with Katie twenty minutes ago, with the promise to talk to her again as soon as she’d done five more things to make Ron’s life miserable.
Katie had been so sweet and helpful at the beginning, giving suggestions about what would scare Ron the most, that it seemed only polite to continue the “Make Ron Cry” initiative long after the proper amount of fear had been achieved.
Besides, it broke up the day.
But Mary wasn’t talking to Katie. She was plotting.
Most of the kids on set didn’t understand the value of the plotting. She was pretty sure they thought she was magic, just coming up with the plans on the spur of the moment and initiating them. Sometimes Katee looked at her with the type of awe that clearly said that someday, she would grow up and be a powerful actress-slash-evil mastermind too.
No one realized that it wasn’t merely a state of being. Mary had to spend lots of time considering all the factors — from the zombies, to the Scientologists, to how long it would be til Jason would call her with the exact same questions AGAIN — and putting them together to form the best plan possible.
“You’re on set in five!” one of the assistants said, knocking on her trailer door.
“I’m on my way,” Mary said, checking her script one last time. Right. Blah blah blah, threatening Baltar, blah blah blah, James and Tricia making innuendo on the desk, blah blah blah, good line about burying James. She really needed to point out to Ron that it was time she and Jamie had scenes again, even if they were scenes with Eddie, too.
Speak of the devil, Ron was waiting while Mary was on her way to set. “Hi,” she said, smiling. “Trying to get in-character.”
“Why did you tell Katee there were zombies? I don’t have a zombie problem. That’s all Abrams. It’s why he hangs around with that Grunberg guy,” Ron said.
“There was a zombie attack on-set,” Mary pointed out.
“Yeah, but now the zombies are on HAWAII,” Ron said. “Stop lowering morale on set.”
Mary snorted. “I don’t lower morale!” she said. “I just make sure you stay on your toes. After all, if you screw up, we’re all out of a job, and then all of these nice kids will have to get jobs. Some of them with JJ. JJ the zombie guy. They should be warned.”
“What about you?” Ron asked.
“What about me?” Mary replied.
“Where are you going after my show crashes and burns because you’ve lowered morale with your zombie rumors and constant undermining?” Ron said. “Desperate Housewives?”
“Bite your tongue,” Mary said. “Besides, I’m sure there’s a bunch of dying moms to be played on TV. Breast cancer survivors, Grey’s Anatomy moms, victim of the week on CSI. Maybe Aaron Sorkin will lay off crack long enough to write a good version of Commander-in-Chief. I’m a good president, don’t you think?”
“Ha ha, very funny,” Ron said dourly. “I’m writing the good version, but you keep lowering morale on my set.”
“There were zombies.”
“You want to work for Sorkin?”
“I have to be on set now.”
“So Ron threatened you with Housewives?” Eddie asked.
Mary raised an eyebrow. “You’re surprised?”
“Well, usually he only manages to threaten you as far as one of the Stargates.”
The scenes with Eddie always went fastest. They were both good at knowing their lines, and could usually keep the laughing and smirking until a few good takes were already in. And in between takes, they could talk.
“Housewives,” he said again, shaking his head. “Fucking Housewives.”
“I’m a woman over forty,” she said. “That means it’s Marc Cherry or the highway, apparently.” Then a slight smile. “Don’t smirk. That’s your future too.”
“You’re going to be Eva Longoria’s father.”
He was doing his best to look offended. “I do not always play the random Latino father, you know.”
Mary yawned. “Of course. Selena was just a freak incident.”
“I didn’t say–”
“Could you get me J.Lo’s autograph?” she asked sweetly.
“Could you get me either of the Gyllenhaals’?”
“Bite your tongue.”
“One of these days, I’m reminding Grace that you promised you’d introduce her to Jake.” He leaned back, smiling. “That’s going to be fun.”
Mary just smiled. He wouldn’t dare. He’d seen what she’d already done to Ron.
Of course, Eddie not daring didn’t mean that the kids were aware that they were subject to the same soul-crushing teasing and pranks that Ron found himself the victim of on a daily basis. The kids had apparently all watched Donnie Darko and come to apparently the wrong answer.
“Hey, is Jake gay?” asked Tahmoh, for instance. The entire cast on set groaned loudly. “I’m just asking! I don’t care!”
“No, Jake isn’t gay,” Mary said in her sweetest voice. “But Maggie is, and Jake dated Kiki Dunst to cover up for Kiki’s hot lesbian affair with his sister. They’re that kind of family.”
“The full Jolie, man,” Tahmoh said, nodding along. “That’s awesome.”
“She’s screwing with you,” Grace said. “Every time anyone asks if Jake is gay, you get an entirely new BS answer.”
“Well, what happens if on my next show, Sandra Oh asks, ‘hey, is that Jamie Bamber gay?'” Mary asked, all sweetness and light. “I mean, honestly.”
Grace cracked up. “Why does everyone think Jamie’s gay?” she asked. “I mean he is pretty, but the boy cannot dress himself. Plus, three kids.”
“Why does everyone think Jake is gay?” Mary asked with a shrug. “Anyway, Grace, remember what I told you. If Ron comes up with notes today, you tell him you’re in-character and will only answer to Sharon. And then when he calls you Sharon, tell him he’s asking for the wrong Sharon. That Sharon’s being downloaded, so he needs to ask ANOTHER Sharon. Who doesn’t know the answers.”
The Grace thing was good, even for her.
Most of her plans were good, as a general rule, because Mary had been working long enough to know that a half-assed plan rarely did more than show others your weak spots and give them ammunition. But this plan…well, this one had gone off even better than she’d expected.
James stopped by her trailer to compliment her on it before he went home that night. Apparently Tricia had been there when it happened, waiting to ask Ron a question about her motivation (specifically, if she had any, and if so, why Ron was refusing to let her show it, and moreover, if he realized that she now had a job with Canada’s Next Top Model as well and that Money To Take Home would not be an acceptable answer anymore), and while they were shooting the last Six/Baltar scene of the night, she was regaling everyone around her with how Ron broke down crying like a little girl after the first ten minutes.
Apparently Grace had gone through with it so completely that she drew it out for almost a half hour before giggling and skipping away.
Mary was particularly proud of this one, really. It was only a few months ago that Grace had said things like “Isn’t it cruel to do this all the time to him?” and “No, seriously, what’s method acting?”
They all grew up so fast, in this business.
It did explain why Mary found her trailer the next day a good mile and a half away from the Galactica set, right on the set of Stargate: Atlantis.
“Jason?” she called. “Jason!”
He turned around and offered her the open oversized bag of Doritos he was carrying.
“God, it’s like six in the morning. Are you ever not stoned?”
He shrugged. “Not if I can help it. What are you doing here?”
“Ron’s trying ineffectively to punish me for corrupting the rest of the cast.”
“Well, I used Grace this time. I’m surprised he didn’t put me all the way over at SG-1.”
“Ah, but he wouldn’t do that,” someone interjected. “Ben’s there.”
Mary turned. David Hewlett. What he lacked in taste in film choices, he made up for in gossip about the inner workings of the Sci-Fi Channel that, if harnessed, could bring television as the universe knew it to its knees. “Ben?” she repeated.
“Ben Browder.” A pause. “You don’t know about Ben Browder?” He shook his head. “Oh, Mary. Mary, Mary, Mary. You have much to learn.”
Hewlett’s trailer was by far the nerdiest place Mary had ever been, and she’d gone to San Diego Comic-Con once or twice. There was a blow-up robot that Hewlett called a Dalek, and when she’d dare ask what a Dalek was, both he and Ben had looked appalled.
However, Hewlett did have wireless high-speed Internet access, was letting her borrow his cell phone so she could call the set and find out what Ron was saying, and give a few orders, and had introduced her to Ben.
Ben, who was eating chocolate pudding while watching Hewlett and Momoa play a video game, like some kind of Zen master of set mischief and management.
“I’m honored to meet you,” Ben said, nodding over his fourth pudding cup. “I hear you keep the Roswell-bitch on his toes.”
“Actors aren’t cattle,” Mary agreed. “So how much is it going to cost me for your assistance? And before you ask, I don’t know if Jake Gyllenhaal is straight, gay, doing his sister, or into little pink stuffed animals, so I can’t help you there. Also, usually I offer this card–” she pulled a small white business card from her wallet, which made Momoa sit up, “But I think Jason is probably a better hook-up.”
“Isn’t that Gillian’s hook-up?” Jason asked. “What’s his name, Antoine, right?”
“Nice guy, really popular, has great Aaron Sorkin stories, but you’re missing the point,” Mary said, putting her card back in her wallet. “Ben, I need your help. I’m willing to pay. What will it cost me?”
Browder ran a hand through his hair. “Can you get me Greg Grunbeg?” he asked. “And Daveigh Chase?”
“Daveigh’s easy, and I can probably get Greg via Katie and Emilie,” Mary said suspiciously. “Why?”
“I want to fight zombies,” Ben said. “I think it would really bring a new dimension to my character. Besides, I always wanted to fight a zombie.”
“JJ Abrams has zombies?” Hewlett asked. “Poor Katie Holmes. That explains a lot.”
Mary snapped her fingers. “Gentlemen, let’s focus. Ben, I can get you a zombie cage match, no problem,” she said. “But I’m going to need some of that zombie action myself — NOT like that.”
Ben smirked. “I think, Miss Mary, I’ve caught your drift,” he said. “You’re kind of an evil mastermind of actresses.”
“I had to work with Costner,” Mary said diffidently. “Did you know he’s a werewolf?”
“Nuh-UH!” Hewlett said. “Now you’re just being ridiculous.”
“Hand to God,” Mary said.
Greg had been enjoying the time off. It wasn’t just time off from the set, it was time away from JJ. Not that he didn’t love JJ — the guy was never going to stop being his best friend — but there were times when he didn’t want to be Greg Grunberg, Zombie Wrangler, or even Greg Grunberg, JJ’s BFF. He just wanted to be Greg, the fun guy who could act and make conversation and once made Ron Rifkin snort soda out his nose just because of a well-timed punchline about the Backstreet Boys.
That was why maybe a dozen people had his cell number, and no one else could bother him. Not about anything.
At least, that was what he thought until it rang just after noon.
“Is this Greg Grunberg?”
His eyes narrowed. “Who is this?”
“Oh, it’s Mary.”
He paused, just long enough for it to register. “Mary?”
“Mary McDonnell. I’m on Battlestar Galactica? I was in Donnie Darko?” And, when he didn’t say anything, “Dances with Wolves?”
“Mary McDonnell. Right. Hi.”
“Hi. Oh, I’m so glad I got the right number. I had asked Katie Heigl, and she said that Emilie De Ravin asked Terry O’Quinn, who asked Michael Vartan, and he was pretty sure this was the number but he wasn’t sure because the sobbing made some of them unclear. You understand.”
“I’m sorry to bother you. I was just wondering…”
“Go for it.”
“You’re supposed to be guy to call if an actor wants to learn to fight zombies.”
Grey frowned. No one was supposed to know about this. It was supposed to be secret. Between him and JJ. No one else was supposed to know. He bet they’d let JJ near Marc Cherry someplace with an open bar. Those bastards. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The woman on the other end of the phone sighed. She’d seemed so nice on TV. “Mr. Grunberg, I’ve gotten it independently confirmed. I didn’t think playing ignorant would help us here.”
“I’m retired,” he said. “I’m not doing that anymore. I’m working on a nice show with nice people and no–”
“Ben wants to learn how to fight zombies,” she said before he could finish.
“Ben?” he asked warily.
He could feel himself smiling. “No shit, from Farscape?”
“I — one moment.” He could hear muffled discussion in the background, and then she returned. “Yes, from Farscape.”
“Wants to meet me?” Greg beamed. “That’s the coolest thing ever! Sure, send him down!”
“He wants a zombie cage fight. He was thinking you could bring it to Vancouver?”
“Whoa,” Greg said. “You want me to transport a zombie across a national border just so he can cage fight?”
“He says he’ll introduce you to Claudia Black.”
Everything was going along according to plan. Mary had returned from her exile on Stargate: Atlantis with a new, better attitude, as well as curiosity about Doctor Who, which made James and Jamie smile and offer to find her DVDs. Hewlett had clearly gotten to her.
But Tricia, Grace, and Katee were not so sure that Mary’s new, docile attitude was exactly for real. They’d all asked over and over, what Mary was going to do to Ron for stranding her with the Atlantis people, and when Mary kept saying, “nothing. Ron and I have resolved our differences,” Grace kept shaking her head.
“But we can totally prank him for you! That was messed up!”
“No, we’re done with pranks. This isn’t high school,” Mary said, eating a soy yogurt and looking at her phone. “Also, if my phone rings and a guy named Greg is on the other end, I don’t care what I’m doing, get me.”
Tricia and Grace looked confused. Greg? Was he their new Antoine? Was there some actor named Greg they should know?
“A very useful person,” Mary said, going back to her script. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Get David. Laura would not call something scrumptious. Not even if she was drunk. And why is Laura drunk? The only reason Laura Roslin should ever be drunk is if it means I get laid or poor Kate Vernon finally gets punched in the face.”
Giggling, Grace ran off to find David, and Mary looked at her phone with increasingly impatient expectation. Grunberg had been a pill about the zombie-wrangling for quite a while, and it had taken all of her skill to prevent Hewlett from selling ringside seats to the Browder-Zombie Cage Fight on the ‘net, which would ruin the part where Ron couldn’t know there were zombies in Vancouver.
“Are you looking for another trip to Atlantis?” David asked. “The script is solid.”
“Laura wouldn’t get drunk over her angst,” Mary said, irritated. “Why are you yanking my chain, David? I’ve been a good girl. Ron has no reason to complain.”
“We know you’re up to something. You made friends with Hewlett.”
“He’s a charmer,” Mary said.
“He’s an antisocial dork with a blow-up Dalek,” David said. “Are you sure you’re not up to something?”
Mary would have said something — any number of things — but her phone went off, and caller ID let her know that it was showtime.
“Oh, excuse me,” Mary said. “My agent. I have to take this.”
At the end of the day, they decided to set the cage fight up in the woods. The woods weren’t anyone’s territory, exactly, so no one’s executive producer could throw a fit about being ousted, and if it happened to be a week that Ron decided they needed to be on Kobol again, David was more than happy to say that he’d been recruited to film Return of the Living Dead 6 there. No one would be surprised by that one.
When Mary had mentioned he was auditioning for it, testing the waters for her story, she learned that it was common knowledge around set that Hewlett would do anything Sci-Fi threw at him, to further his dream of being the first Canadian Doctor Who. Now that they mentioned it, she remembered the stories of Dave the Geek, but somehow hadn’t put two and two together.
Being around Momoa had a tendency to make things fuzzy.
The cage fit nicely into one of the cleared areas, which they’d photographed compulsively and sent pictures of to Grunberg on his camera phone until he found one which he deemed acceptable. Once they started setting up for the match, Ben took to spending any free time he had standing around, smiling, and just (as he put it) “experiencing the atmosphere of victory.”
“Are you high?” Claudia asked him bluntly when he called her and told her to meet him there to see the location.
“High on life, baby,” which was probably not the kind of answer that would reassure anyone except Claudia, who’d known him long enough to know that that was just Ben being Ben. “It’s almost time.”
“Have you told anyone what you’re doing?” she asked. “Someone who’s not in this bizarre little clique you’ve formed?”
“I didn’t form a clique,” he said. “I worked with several other professionals to solve a problem in a mutually beneficial way.”
“That didn’t answer my question.” She stood next to him for a long time. “Would you have told me if you didn’t need to introduce me to the Grunberg guy?”
“He’s not just the Grunberg guy,” she said. “He’s the best-known zombie wrangler in Hollywood.”
“I didn’t know of any.”
“And now you know of one. See?”
“I’m assuming, given that you’ve worked on the set of two popular science fiction shows in the past ten years, you’re capable of realizing that zombies are a mythological creation commonly filmed with makeup and prosthetics,” she said.
“I get that.” Browder paused. “But zombies are real, and he’s really a zombie wrangler, and Mary was willing to do this for me in exchange for a little help-”
“Oh, god,” Claudia moaned. “What did you do this time?”
“What do you mean what did I do?” he demanded. “I got her back on set. That’s all.”
“No,” she said. “That would just be a good deed. This is clearly a Ben Browder Special.”
“This is not a Ben Browder Special,” he said. “This is an exchange of good tidings from two actors who like having jobs, as facilitated by the guys from Atlantis, who enjoy operating as middlemen between two professional actors, as well fulfilling a life-long dream of mine.”
“This is a Ben Browder Special,” Claudia said.
“You have no faith at all in me,” he protested, but before he could explain why this was so- or, in fact, formulate reasons why she should have this faith in the first place- his phone beeped.
“Is everything okay?” Claudia asked.
“It’s Mary,” he reported. “Greg just confirmed the last couple of details.” He grinned at her, a joy he usually reserved for his family, fan conventions, and the annual Christmas party. “It’s almost time.”
Greg didn’t quite know what to say to Mary, who he’d actually recognized as “the fox from Independence Day,” as well as from about ten other things she’d done, and who was clearly having too good of a time ruling over the glorified extras of Vancouver.
JJ would love her; she would totally work for that Lena Olin vehicle JJ had broiling in his crack brain.
“So, is Costner, um, really a werewolf?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Mary admitted. “I thought it was funny. So, you wrangle zombies? Why do zombies follow JJ Abrams around?”
“JJ made a deal with the forces of darkness for his career,” Greg said. “I told him it was a BAD idea, but he was hard up, and he said that it was a small price to pay for success, and he’d bring me along.”
“He traded his soul for Lost?” Mary asked, grimacing. “Ouch. Well, it could be worse.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t even do his own zombie-wrangling,” Greg said, rubbing his hands together. “Where the hell is Ben? If he waits too long, the zombie gains power by the proximity to midnight. Anyway, why are you doing TV?”
“Well, there are only so many unfulfilled suburban moms I could play,” Mary said. “This is at least fun, and maybe Adam Sandler will notice me so I can play a foul-mouthed grandma in one of his movies when I turn sixty-five or so.”
“Adam Sandler’s kind of over,” Greg said, looking at the cage uneasily. “Not that I think you couldn’t do it, of course.”
“Fine. Ben Stiller. Vince Vaughn. Same difference,” Mary said. “This place is so much creepier without a thousand techs crawling over every square inch and some idiot saying I can hook them up with weed if they produce the Tim Horton’s.”
Greg snorted. “You’d work with Stiller?”
“I still talk to Alfre,” Mary said. “No matter what deal your friend JJ made with Satan, it pales in comparison to the occult deal between Marc Cherry, Teri Hatcher, and the forces of evil.”
Greg would have actually loved to hear that story, and only partly because he was pissed that without the Housewives ratings being so good he might have had a shot at keeping his job.
But that was when Ben showed up.
Unfortunately, it was the wrong Ben.
“What are you doing here?” Greg asked. “And why do you smell like a vineyard?” He frowned. “Does Jen know you’re here?”
“I’m Ben Affleck, bitch!” he crowed. “I am Ben motherfucking Affleck, and it is ZOMBIE TIME.”
“Jen sent you, didn’t she?” Greg looked disgusted. “JJ figured it out and had Jen send you.” He turned accusingly to Mary. “How would Abrams have found out about this?”
“Flanigan overheard,” she said simply.
“Got it.” Greg turned back to Ben. “Why did JJ send you here?”
“Motherfucking zombies,” Ben said.
“Jen would have introduced you to the zombies on set,” he said. “You didn’t need to fly out here.”
“Mewes told me about zombies once,” he said. “Thought he was stoned. I mean, he was, but I guess he was right too.” He shook his head. “Zombie cage fight. That is crazy shit, Greg.”
Greg sighed. “Ben, this is Mary McDonnell. She was the hot mom in a bunch of things you’ll remember when you’re sober. Mary, this is Ben Affleck, from Phantoms.”
Mary smiled tightly. If nothing else, Galactica had really strengthened her art of the fuck-you-die smile.
“So where’s the fight?” Ben asked.
“We’re waiting for the other participant,” Greg said. “Hewlett should be bringing him by any minute.” He checked his watch. Everyone knew zombies were best to deal with right after sunset. He couldn’t believe what a risk taker Ben was.
It was that quality exactly that had made him so brilliant in Farscape. It was really unfortunate that right now, it was just pissing Greg off.
This was getting out of hand. Mary had always had her doubts about a zombie cage fight, but Hewlett and Ben had assured her that it would be all right, that Ben knew what he was doing, and they were on board with getting Ron, AKA “that bitch from Roswell.”
However, Ben Affleck, the casts of Atlantis and Galactica, and two boom boxes in a forest with a zombie while Browder milked the drama and Greg continued to look like he was constipated? Was far, far too complicated for what should have been a little quid pro quo for revenge on Ron.
“Yo, Affleck, you the bomb in Phantoms!” someone — Mary thought it might be the kid who played Venner, God knew — shouted at Ben Affleck. Ben, who had met Jason Momoa and discovered a lifelong soul mate, threw him metal horns and hollered.
“I think this is a little out of hand,” someone said, sitting down next to Mary on one of the fifty lawn chairs that Amanda Tapping had apparently brought. “Claudia.”
“Mary,” Mary replied, putting her hand out. Claudia Black shook it firmly. “Is Ben — not Affleck, Browder — finally here, then?”
“He’s ready. He and David are plotting his grand entrance,” Claudia said. “Bloody men. Tell them there’s going to be a zombie cage fight, and suddenly the woods of British Columbia are alive with children and stoned, stoned men running around in their knickers.”
“I don’t know why Ben Affleck is here,” Mary admitted. “He’s here, and he’s stoned, and he told Jamie that his baby mama could kick his ass for no reason. And now the entire cast of my show is here. I just wanted a simple little zombie cage match. Possibly to tell stories about how Marc Cherry sold his soul to Satan, and then got stuck with Teri Hatcher as his Mephistopheles.”
“Ye gods,” Claudia said lightly. “A cruel twist of fate. You’d think it would be that girl from Melrose.”
“No, she’s just gay,” Mary said. “Her and maybe Jake Gyllenhaal.”
“Who?” Claudia asked.
“Thank you,” Mary said as a spotlight suddenly flooded the impromptu party. “I hope that’s not the cops.”
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Hewlett’s voice boomed. “I bring you the bravest man of the twenty-first century. The man, the legend, the zombie-fighting master — BEN BROWWWWWDER!”
Everyone clapped and cheered loudly. Mary pinched the bridge of her nose; she was supposed to call home tonight. Maybe read some of the reviews of a few Broadway shows, look over a script or two her agent had faxed up. But no, she had decided on the path of righteous revenge. And now Ben Browder was in spandex, being cheered on to cage fight a zombie.
Meanwhile, Greg was no more pleased than Mary about this. Seriously, nobody here took zombie wrangling seriously, and it could get them all killed.
“Idiot,” Greg said. “I told you sunset!”
“It’s okay, man. I know the risks,” Ben said.
“Kick his ass, man!” Affleck shouted. “ZOMBIE TIME!”
“Oh, Jesus,” Claudia said. “This is going to go badly. Do you know how to fight a zombie?”
“Head shot, reload,” Mary said. “But I don’t believe in guns.”
“That’s all right,” Claudia said. “I have an ax. Just in case.”
Katee perched on the edge of the lawn chair she was sharing with Tricia, Grace, and Tahmoh. It was standing room only, unless you managed to convince your costar to get there early enough to snag a chair or three for your entire cast. The fucking SG-1 cast all had their own chairs, and it seemed like every damn Vancouver actor who’d ever done a three-line guest stint on X-Files felt entitled to grab a front-row seat at what Hewlett swore was the first Vancouver Zombie Cage Match in years.
“Why doesn’t Mary ever tell us about these things?” Grace asked. “Why do we always hear about them from Browder?”
“Because Mary believes in need-to-know,” Tricia said. “And Ben believes in wearing that damn cape. God, you’d think his kids would’ve at least made him watch The Incredibles.”
“She could’ve told us,” Grace continued. “I was totally ready to make Ron cry again for her, and she’s had this whole thing planned out!”
“Well, would you have believed her?” Tahmoh asked. “I mean, really, Grace, zombies. That’s something for our shows. Or, well, his show,” he added, gesturing at Momoa, who noticed, waved back, and then turned back to Affleck.
“Why not?” Tricia asked. “People will believe anything. They’re still convinced you’re sleeping with Tahmoh,” she added to Katee.
Katee raised an eyebrow. “I thought they were convinced I was sleeping with Jamie.”
“Maybe,” Tahmoh suggested, “They’re convinced Jamie’s sleeping with me.”
“Shut up,” Grace interrupted. “They’re starting.”
Hewlett was standing up there in front of everyone, looking far too excited about what was to come. To his left, Browder, dressed like a cross between an effeminate gymnast and a failed superhero. To his right, a zombie.
“Vancouver!” he yelled. “Are you ready?”
Greg was starting to be alarmed. Browder had finally gotten into the cage with the damn zombie, but nobody was really taking this seriously.
Okay, Mary and Claudia both looked like they were taking it seriously. And Affleck was giving some extra in a headlock a wet willy, and calling him Matt. But this looked something like the parties Greg used to go to after a long day on the Alias set, back before Mikey Vartan became the weepiest man alive.
“Kick his ass, John Crichton!” someone bellowed from the audience, while Hewlett kept taking flash photos of Ben struggling with the zombie. Greg was getting King Kong flashbacks, and he hoped that if this went badly — if, for example, Browder’s cape was used to temporarily blind him while a wily zombie made for the cage latch, like was happening right now — there wasn’t widespread…
“OH MY GOD THE ZOMBIE’S LOOSE!” Hewlett screamed in a voice far too high-pitched for a man.
“Shit,” Greg muttered. “All right people, out of the way, show’s over!”
Everyone bolted. Ben was pulling his cape back over and cursed when he saw the freed zombie. Affleck was cheering, and everyone else was screaming and running like the cops had shown up at this overgrown high-school kegger.
Hewlett was on the grown, shrieking in terror as the zombie advanced, and Greg knew he wasn’t going to make it there in time.
“David! David, GET UP AND RUN!” Greg yelled.
“It’s gonna get me! Oh my god, this is so much less cool than I thought!” David said. “It’s going to eat my brain! I’m going to think I’m on a good show!”
“David, it’s a zombie! It doesn’t move very fast!”
Hewlett shook his head. “I saw 28 Days Later! He’s waiting to pounce!”
“This is more a Romero zombie,” Greg said, pulling out his dart gun. “Trust me. Just…David!”
David screamed again as the zombie lurched forward, eyes bright.
There was a sudden shot. The zombie reeled back, and with an agility that belied his squat little man persona, David stood up and ran.
Claudia Black had a gun. Mary McDonnell had an ax.
“Why do you have an ax?” Greg asked.
“I believe in gun control,” Mary said, deadpan. “Also, I need the head, remember?”
Call the next morning was far too early after all of the excitement the night before, and if anyone actually wanted to be there, they were keeping that desire quiet and far from the rest of the cast. They had to shoot one of those whole-cast scenes that Ron was so pleased with whenever he came up with a way to have them, and that meant that no one was spared.
Grace was perched in one corner, watching for people, and periodically people would go over, whisper fervently with her, and then leave as if nothing happened. Mary was trying very, very hard to not seem suspicious.
At least Eddie and Michael didn’t go over there. No, they came straight to her. “Zombies?” Eddie asked.
“J. Lo,” she replied without missing a beat.
“Coffee?” Michael asked instead.
She smiled gratefully at him and accepted the cup. “God, it’s early.”
“Well, you were up late last night.”
Mary shrugged. “You know how it is. Lines to learn, people to talk to, zombies to be decapitated, wranglers to be driven to the airport…”
“All in a day’s work for the woman TV Guide dubbed the mother figure to the cast?” Michael asked.
“You’ve got it.”
Eddie smiled supportively. “At least it’s over now.”
She wasn’t about to spoil that particular surpise. “Something like that.”
“Something like that?” They exchanged glances. “What did you do?”
“Ask Grace.” Mary gestured at her, where she was currently whispering furiously with Kandyse and Alessandro.
“I didn’t even know Grace was in this scene,” Michael said.
“Well, if there’s gossip to be shared and everyone else is too smart to spread it…” Mary sipped at the coffee again. “This is good. Thank you.”
“Is it really gossip if everyone was there last night?” Eddie asked. “Don’t get me wrong, it was a great show–”
“I’m sure she thinks there’s something beyond just the cage match.”
“Was there?” Eddie asked.
“Not really. We dismembered the zombie, we let Affleck dry out, we got Hewlett an official Star Trek band-aid, we got Claudia’s autograph for Grunberg, we called it a day.”
“We?” Michael said dubiously.
“Well, I helped organize,” Mary explained.
“Oh.” Eddie nodded. “So there’s no story that they’re all gossiping about?”
“Not that I know of. Maybe they saw us burying the zombie corpse.” She paused. “Well, most of it. It was in parts.” Mary took in both of their surprised looks and smiled slyly. “Well, we couldn’t just leave it there,” she said defensively.
If she wasn’t wrong, they were both fading from surprised to suspicious pretty quickly. “So nothing’s strange at all today?” Michael asked.
“Nope. Just a normal day on the set.”
“Oh,” Michael said.
“Oh,” Eddie said.
That was about when the screams started coming from Ron’s office.
Everyone stood around, looking at each other, not knowing quite what to do. But slowly, all of them turned to Mary, who had not made a sound. She had, however, placed her coffee down neatly on the counter next to her, and she was laughing so hard that she was shaking and tears were running down her cheeks.
Ron had not stopped screaming, ignoring a few places where he was clearly just pausing to breathe. But that was about when he did, and the single word he bellowed was, undoubtedly, her name. She just stood there, wiping the tears off her cheeks and enjoying the moment.
“Is he dying?” someone whispered, clearly trying to decide if the correct response was intervening or letting it happen.
“I guess maybe he found the head,” Mary managed between gasps. She wiped her eyes one more time, and stood up to go find Ron.
Everyone watched her leave, and for a few moments the room was deadly silent.
“Just a normal day on set,” Michael said after a while.
They all seemed to reach a consensus at the same time, but Katee was the one to voice it. “Anyone want to convince Ron today that the James, Tricia, and Grace can only communicate if he talks to them in binary?”
In California, right in the middle of the twentieth take of yet another scene with Ellen, TJ, and that damn dog, Katie Heigl felt an alarming sense of complete tranquility come over her. And even though Ellen was talking, she felt herself smile.