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The Getaway Star
a short story by Paul Collins

The squawking wind is a bitch. It pulls at Calloway's clothing and raises swirling dust clouds across the suburban lot. He pulls his collar up as he approaches an intersection.

"Excuse me," says an old man, "you crossing the street?"

The whistling wind muffles the man's words but Calloway understands. He negotiates the kerb with the man and almost at arm's length guides him across the intersection.

"I'm seventy--nine," the man states. He doesn't expect sympathy. He has been nervously waiting to cross here daily for the past month now.

Calloway refrains from warning the ancient on the merits of survival and the consequences of his present situation. Calloway is secure in the knowledge that he would personally not want to exist in a frame of calcified bones and wasted muscles.

"Sight's not too good." The words are gossamer-light. "Can't see the damn cars."

Calloway plays his lines. "Don't worry, those of us with good vision aren't too safe either."

Calloway and the near octogenarian are crossing the centre lane when two cars accelerate around the corner. They are vintage Fords, replicas of those manufactured during the era known as the Roaring Twenties. Their motors scream insanely and their tyres burn rubber as they career alongside one another.

Matching speeds, they crowd the street.

The old man panics, tears away from Calloway, and staggers blindly. He appears deafened by the noise, shaken by the speed of the charging automobiles. The left-hand fender of one car strikes the old pedestrian with sickening force, lifts him into the air, crushes bone and flesh into bloody paste and somersaults him into the windscreen. His false teeth explode from his mouth as his head disintegrates amidst shards of glass from the imploding windscreen.

Calloway swears and instinctively shields himself.

The other's body hangs snared by the jagged glass.

Trapped between two cars, Calloway hits the cobbles in a defensive crouch as the occupant of the first car empties a magazine of steeljacketed bullets through the rear window of his rival.

Calloway springs forward, rolls to absorb the impact of skin against the uneven street. He scuttles for safety toward the newly built bank facade.

The two screeching cars speed off, the lead car billowing smoke, its obscene cargo sprawled across the bonnet.

A climactic explosion rends the air.

"Cut!" yells Toby. The director is euphoric. Beside him, seated in his canvas-backed seat, Leroy Reichman, the backer of this splat movie, chortles with glee. "Didya see that old geezer fly! Didya see it!"

Toby allows him a grin. He has been a director for years. He knows how to keep backers happy.

Calloway wipes the dust from his clothes and jogs back towards his dressing room. The remains of the old man are being extracted from the gutted car by a pair of roustabouts.

"Crazy old coot," Leroy exults. "That wasn't in the script. A stitch-up job from bum to bald top and bye bye wrinkly!"

Toby stretches his hands to encompass the world at large. "Yeah, lucky. We'll do a superimpose, freeze the action as his teeth fly out, a double take as his head hits the windscreen and a slow zoom as his body jams in the car frame."

Toby puffs expansively on his fat cigar. "You sure got your money's worth."

"Yeah," Leroy agrees, unable to curb his enthusiasm. "It sure was worth ten big ones. The way that loon got wasted I'd double his family's allowance."

Toby loses his smile. His mind is a calculating machine.

Calloway knows that the old man's relatives will be lucky to see half the going price.

"Hey, Calloway," Leroy hollers. "What you think of that old fart?"

Calloway shrugs, remains aloof. He can afford to be an independent thinker. Being a box office attraction he is guaranteed a commission of the gross take. With his survival insurance he knows he is relatively secure.

"He was an old man," Calloway says, barely audible above the approaching storm's voice. "He had a right to die better than that."

Leroy sneers, puffs up importantly. "Boy, don't come that holier-than-thou crap with me! You're not that big that -- "

Calloway whistles and a dark shape detaches itself from the shadows. Crunch, a Doberman, muscled and scarred, quivering with latent hostility, pads alongside his master.

Behind master and dog, Leroy calls, "You remember who's paying you!"

"Not you," Calloway grunts. "You old fart."

Calloway and Crunch lope to the dressing room. The two, man and dog, are not dissimilar in attitude, bearing and instinct. The man, stripped to the waist, reveals a similar muscle structure to his dog: his upper body is covered in small tight muscles. There is no flab, and the raised pectoral muscles and rounded biceps testify to constant physical exertion. His tanned body is extensively scarred.

Disrobing, he enters the cleansing booth where jets of high-pressure water massage his body. Relaxing, he takes a deep breath and flexes his muscles as the steam rises to envelop him.

Abruptly the water becomes icy cold and he gasps for air.

"You bitch, Jenelle!" he screams. He steps back quickly. "Wait till I get out of here!"

Calloway rushes from the unit and wraps himself in a towel that Jenelle has offered.

Jenelle Jardene, his new leading lady, has everything the current vogue demands: small waist, large breasts (slightly aided by silicone), pearl-like teeth (better than nature provided) and a mane of black lustrous hair.

She cocks her head, smiles wantonly. "How did it go out there today?"

Calloway briskly rubs himself dry. He throws the towel to her, moves away to dress.

"You're always so evasive. You never share anything with me!"

"It's just that I take my work seriously."

She flicks the towel to the floor. "Hell, and you think I don't!"

His casualness irks her. "To you it's just one more splat movie in the can but I want to improve myself and I'd like to benefit from your experience, you know?"

Comfortably dressed in a one-piece jump suit, Calloway pours them both a drink.

Taking a sip of specially prepared Jarumba, she ponders for a moment. "It's a shame Toby never has the same leading lady twice in any of his films. How come?"

Calloway manages an odd smile. "You know Toby's sexual perversions. To him women are an expendable item."

Throughout this exchange Crunch has remained impassive. There has been no variation in his breathing or movements. His stumpy tail is immobile, and he registers neither disapproval nor acceptance of the woman.

Calloway clicks his fingers and Crunch pads over to him.

Jenelle sighs. "It's just that I never heard of him having the same leading lady a second time. I think I could learn a lot more to further my career if only he'd sign me up again."

Calloway's cool grey eyes rest on her face momentarily. "Just the other day you were trying to talk me into leaving here with you. Disappearing act and all. Change your mind?"

Jenelle hesitates, returns the eye contact, then shrugs. "I was just sounding you out I guess. I'd leave anytime you wanted. I've been planning things -- I know it would work."

He has heard this conversation before from other co-stars. Beautiful, talentless ladies, cast on a series of studio couches. They had four or five variations in their approach, but it is basically the same pitch.

Jenelle does, however, stir in him a curious passion. He dismisses these emerging thoughts as counter-productive.

"Look, before you go any further, I'm under contract. I can't walk out -- if I did I'd be a moving target. I'm in the same position as a retired gunfighter who wants to hang up his gunbelt."

"But what if," Jenelle insists, "I did manage to get us out? With secure cover -- just the two of us. You know the League of Decency is getting stronger every day. Splat movies will be a thing of the past. You'll be Out There on your lonesome."

Calloway dismisses her argument. He has heard the same prophets of doom for the industry over the last decade.

Jenelle, he realises, only wants him for publicity. She would later inform bounty hunters of his whereabouts and collect a percentage for the kill. Notwithstanding these basic thoughts, Calloway knows that with his credit he can enlist the services of a small army and live like a lord. Such thoughts always amuse him.

Jenelle delves inside her hip purse and produces a computerized ID pass. "This will get us off the lot and I've some friends who will put us up until it's safe."

Pouring himself another jigger of Jarumba, he broods for a moment on the demise of the old man. The sequence will serve as an audience grabber but in his own mind he feels it reflects on his professional acumen. He is a victim of his own reputation. Willing opponents ready to pit their ability against his are becoming scarce, so he must make do with inferior roles.

Calloway reaches for her, digs his fingers into her soft, perfumed shoulders. "Okay. So I'm bored with being cooped up. If you're game, we'll ship out tonight."

He watches for the escaping grin. She doesn't allow it, but throws herself enthusiastically into his arms.

Crunch raises his head, his hackles erect in warning. The muscles in his hindquarters tighten in preparation for an attack.

"Hey Crunch, easy fella. You're among friends." Calloway ruffles the dog's head affectionately. It is a rare display of sentiment.

Crunch is a minor celebrity in his own way. They are inseparable on and off the set and Crunch has contributed to a kill in more than one of Calloway's films.

Jenelle nibbles Calloway's neck. "Sometimes I wonder who you think most of -- me or that hound of yours."

He messes her hair, in a not dissimilar manner than he has displayed toward the animal.

"You're no dog," he says.

Taking only the bare essentials, they vacate the dressing room. Outside, night has descended and the sets are relatively deserted.

Calloway's twin-powered Turbo-Shark is parked outside his dressing room. He pulls back the plasteel butterfly canopy, whistles to Crunch who leaps into his custom-built compartment. Calloway fastens his restricting harness.

Jenelle displays an impressive amount of thigh as she climbs into the passenger bucket seat. Surveillance cameras trace her every move.

A pulse beats nervously in her throat as she surveys the instrument panel that appears to be bewilderingly complex.

Her head presses backwards into the moulded headrest as they pull away with massive acceleration.

Calloway glances at her. "So far so good." Poised and confident, he takes his hand off the steering wheel and holds her hand for a moment.

The Shark's four blazing headlights pierce the night. It rapidly clears the filming lot and they are soon approaching the first checkpoint.

Inserting the pass into the viewing window, they wait apprehensively until it is processed. They receive clearance and pull away.

Jenelle is strangely quiet while Calloway, in an unusually garrulous mood, keeps up a running commentary on the new life style they will shortly enjoy.

It is only a formality to pass the final checkpoint. The Shark throatily approaches the featureless concrete building. Calloway seems indifferent to the unusual flow of traffic in the approach lane. Several large maintenance and filming vans have congregated at the exit. He knows that his survival insurance has been forfeited once he has left the confines of the set, that he is now considered financially expendable.

Excitement explodes within Calloway as a jutting saw-toothed grid elevates itself from the ground. Made of toughened-segmented steel, hair-fine edged, it seeks to demolish his tyres. A small flickering light set into the dashboard divides Calloway's attention.

He switches on the visiphone. Even on the small screen Leroy's purple complexion becomes increasingly apparent; his nasty pig's eyes squint in outrage.

"Listen, you damned death freak," Leroy splutters, "I warned you what would happen if you tried to run out on your contract!"

Calloway laughs insanely. "You fat gross bag of fertilizer," he says. "Beam out." Calloway cuts off transmission.

Suddenly a battery of floodlights stab the night. Calloway is not prepared for this. It is not in the script. He turns a feverish face to Jenelle. Only subliminally is he aware that his life is now in Toby's hands.

Jenelle shrieks. A drone camera zeroes in. It descends and magnetically locks onto the bonnet. Its wide-angle lens swings around to glare into the car's interior. Two sound antennae emerge, adding to its alien appearance.

"It looks as though we've been set up," he says without conviction. "Where did you get that identity pass?"

There is a strange glint in her eyes. "I did a few favors for a friend of Leroy's."

Calloway peers ahead, seems to deliberate on her answer. Any mistakes will be dubbed in later. "That figures. Well, if they want to play games, let's play."

Calloway feels the adrenaline pumping through his veins, stimulating his crazed brain. He feels alive, absorbed. Jenelle no longer matters.

Jenelle, herself fully engrossed with her role in this scene, tugs at his shoulder, animates her face to add emphasis to a warning.

A wire mesh perimeter fence looms before them. Once a government testing area, it provides a well-guarded and almost inaccessible escape zone.

Calloway knows he can crash over the grid, for his multi-celled tyres are incapable of a blowout, but they would be shredded against its teeth.

Calloway affects mild alarm. His public must never see him completely fazed. He swings into a 180-degree turn and thunders up the road. His lights catch a side road that promises escape. Abruptly his foot pumps down on the brakes as another gargantuan grid rises to bar his entry.

Calloway swears. He flicks the lever adjustment on the hydraulic lifters, shifting the car's body weight. With the car's mass concentrated on the rear wheels, the Shark slews to a halt, and the front wheels bump harmlessly across the grid's surface.

Calloway executes a standing, screaming spinout and the tail of the Shark misses the grid's teeth as the car flies in a dizzying circle. Thrown into reverse, the Shark careers madly backwards.

As though by signal, twin gun turrets snap open and laser beams etch grooves across the bonnet, but the Shark's velocity carries them swiftly out of range.

With calculated aggression, Calloway activates a switch that feeds hundreds of steel ball bearings through a twin pipe system. Using the force of the turbo engine, it sprays a barrage across their path.

A series of explosions rends the night. The road has been mined. Like a frenzied bull seeking escape from an arena, the Shark spins around to charge back for a final confrontation.

Approaching their departure bay, they discover a hive of activity. Crunch senses the excitement and thrashes relentlessly, frantically attempting to dislodge his harness.

Jenelle begins to sense betrayal. It is no longer a counter plot she is acting, rather a counter, counter plot. Numbly, she hangs on to her seat.

Calloway snarls. He can read the fear and confused jubilation that emanate from the starlet. This is the culmination of all her plans, the end product of her deceit. He grasps her hand, which contains a tiny but lethal blast pistol. His steel tendon fingers cruelly wrest it from her deadened hand.

Driving one-handed, he screeches in a half arc to a jarring halt. The headlights pinpoint a violent verbal battle between Toby and Leroy. Toby has just been told about the blast pistol, Calloway muses.

Calloway contemptuously pinches Jenelle's face. He smiles wickedly. "Get out," he says.

"Calloway! Please! It was Leroy -- "

"What did he offer you?" Calloway asks. "A starring role in your own flesh movie?"

With professional interest he watches the mounting desperation in her beautiful eyes. He fervently hopes the cameras are catching it.

"An added bonus, by request, would have been the Shark I suppose." He smiles at the sick look that shatters her remaining equanimity.

Jenelle staggers from the car, comes to a halt, shields her eyes as the mobile lights and cameras zoom in for a close-up. One last time she looks back to Calloway, her mouth open in a mute appeal.

She then sees the character he is playing: a death lover, the dog and the man registering the same incarnate evil. His eyes now reflect the ecstasy of inflicting pain. She sees the hunger, the craving for satisfaction, which carries far beyond sex, recall, redemption.

Mentally she sees the tiniest hand movement: the command that launches the slavering beast at her throat.

"Oh sweet Jesus help me," she moans.

But he isn't listening.

© Paul Collins 1983, 2001. This story first appeared in Frontier Worlds, 1983.

'Getaway Star' is reprinted in Stalking Midnight, an anthology edited by Sean Wallace, and has been expanded into the novel, Cyberskin, published in Australia by Hybrid, and in Germany by Heyne Verlag.

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