Chapter 1 — Establishing Shot
Topaz was bitching about getting her weave wet when I first noticed Kevin’s body floating in the pool.
“I paid good money for this, and I ain’t bustin’ it,” she said, pointing to the roots of her honey-streaked, flowing, fabricated locks. “It is not worth winning a challenge.”
I’d had it with all these women and their hour-long beauty routines that kept me waiting to use the bathroom. “Shut up! I don’t care about your weave!” I yelled.
“Repeat that,” Topaz dared me.
I was tempted to do so, but I refrained. I could show Topaz what having a weave torn out felt like another time. Instead, I pointed out what Topaz and everyone else missed. “There is a body in the pool!”
Even though it seemed we had a drowning on our hands, my fellow reality-show contestants looked from one to the other. Like Topaz, they didn’t want to get wet, not even if it were a matter of life or death. If the body in the pool had belonged to Patrick Price, the rock star we were all supposedly fighting for, every one of those women would have been making like Pamela Anderson in Baywatch.
I ran for the pool while the other women stood to the side in their miniskirts and hot pants cut up to their choo-chas.
“They didn’t say the challenge started yet! It starts at ten, and it’s only nine forty-five! Not all the crew is here!” Lorelai shouted. “This might be part of the challenge! It might be a dummy!”
Lorelai was wrong. I knew the challenge that day had nothing to do with the pool. Earlier that morning, Kevin, who was the executive producer of Atomic Love 2, had tipped me off that the cast members would be forced to drink shots of Pepto-Bismol mixed with orange juice and hot cocoa blended with tomato soup. By drinking these noxious beverages, the contestants would prove their everlasting love to the aging rocker who was the star of the show.
Whoever had the strongest stomach and didn’t throw up earned a big date and an escape from a hothouse full of jealous, drunk women. All of the contestants were craving a brief moment of freedom, possibly even more than the chance to spend time with a relatively famous musician.
That morning, Kevin said it was okay for me to take one sip of a mystery beverage and eliminate myself from the challenge as soon as I felt the need to gag. I’d already been on a date with the rock star, and he liked me. Besides, since the producers and I had a special arrangement, I knew I wasn’t going to be eliminated for a while.
When Kevin vowed that I would be safe from vomiting on national television, he was wearing a perfectly tailored white shirt with narrow, vertical purple stripes. The reality-show trade had been good to him. He was a minor god, pulling strings and adjusting situations to bring out the worst in people, as that was the best for the camera.
But somehow he’d fallen off his pedestal and landed face-down in the pool, with his waterlogged skin showing pink through the white part of his shirt. The morning was already hot, so his body must have been steeping like a tea bag.
I pulled off my mic pack, threw it into the grass, and dove into the pool. As soon as I entered the water, my cowboy boots dragged me down to the bottom of the pool instead of toward the body. My bustier and jeans didn’t help. I surfaced for a moment, flailing and gasping for air, the body getting closer and the chattering from the contestants getting louder.
“Oh, God! This is a challenge! I just know it!” Lorelai yelled. “I’m getting in! I would drown for you, Patrick!” I heard some splashing behind me.
I was terrified at the prospect of a horde of strippers, Playmates and wannabes following Lorelai and impeding my progress, so I tried to swim faster. I went under one more time and surfaced near the body. I hooked my arm under Kevin’s armpit and tried to push both of us toward dry land.
Kevin and I finally reached the edge. When I grabbed the concrete, I opened my eyes again, and the chlorine stung. Then again, they needed a lot of chlorine in that pool given where some of my fellow contestants had been. I fumbled toward the body and tried to keep Kevin’s head above water. I had hoped he might stir eventually, but he didn’t.
Topaz surprised me, putting in some physical effort for what I figured was the first time in her life. She grabbed the back of Kevin’s shirt to pull him out. To avoid a tumble into the water, she wedged one of her black stiletto heels against the lip of the pool for leverage. Suddenly, she slipped and fell on her butt, hard, but she got up again and kept pulling. “C’mon, big boy. Let’s go,” she grumbled at Kevin.
Some of the other girls fluttered around. As Topaz pulled Kevin, I pushed him until we got his butt over the edge.
I screamed his name over and over, if only for the benefit of the women flocking by the pool, so they could realize this wasn’t just television. The members of the camera crew finally set down their gear and rushed to the side of the pool.
“It’s real! It’s real!” I yelled while scrambling out of the water. I kept feeling this greasy stuff under my fingers, probably the same stuff that caused Topaz to slip, but I clung to the tiles and hoisted myself out.
“Holy shit! Kevin! Dammit! Wake up!” Topaz hovered over him and gave his chubby cheek several stinging slaps. “This better not be a joke!” Her fingers bounced off like his face was a trampoline.
Bumping against me, Lorelai shoved Topaz aside and frantically pushed up and down on Kevin’s chest. Topaz pushed her back, but Lorelai slapped Topaz away. Before a catfight broke out, I screamed, “Lorelai! Stop! You’re going to break his sternum!”
Lorelai grew quiet and just flopped back on her behind, right at my feet, her shiny red hot pants soaking in the pool water that had splashed up. She started sobbing. Out of all the women there, her emotions about Kevin seemed the most genuine. I knew from her audition tape that Kevin was the man behind her big Hollywood break.
Patrick, the rock star, finally emerged from the pool cabana, sans shirt. He must have been sleeping. After the first night, with a few notable exceptions, he avoided being torn into pieces by the contestants by going to sleep early and claiming to need regular naps. No wonder the production crew had been force-feeding him Major Rager, a bright orange, near-combustible energy drink that was sponsoring the show.
“What the hell?” he asked, lifting up his aviator sunglasses and rubbing his eyes. All of the contestants loved his sexy-sleepy look. “We’re not doing the pool today. It’s drink day.” Once he noticed Kevin, he flinched. “What happened?” he asked to no one in particular.
“I think he’s dead,” I told him.
Patrick walked back into the cabana and returned with a stack of white towels and a few cans of Major Rager. “We’ll wait for the ambulance,” he said, stroking my wet hair. He then wrapped me in a towel and handed me one of the energy drinks. I had a gulp, and the caffeine hit me right away.
While Patrick moved among the contestants, trying to comfort them, I stood quietly. Kevin had hired me to protect Patrick from a stalker who may have been on the set of Atomic Love 2. I assumed that Kevin, my boss and the man behind the reality-show curtain, was safe. I was wrong.
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