Several miles later, an out-of-breath Tara came upon a seaside community, dominated by a large ornate hotel. There was a promenade of shops and kiosks that sold food, rented surfboards and equipment, and provided various services.
Tara, using some of her precious supply of cash, bought a silly yellow fishing hat, struggling to stuff most of her long, dark blonde hair into it as a half-assed disguise. She had little hope of getting out of this area unseen by various law-enforcement agencies, but she had to try something. She also had to find some way of earning money, though it would be difficult without identification, which was now in the hands of the sheriffs who had taken her bag at the diner.
Walking amongst the various tourists, trying to both look inconspicuous and push away gnawing despair, Tara noticed a crowd gathering near a short wall that separated the promenade from the beach. Shrugging internally, having no better place to go at the moment, Tara blended in with the crowd to see what was going on that had interested so many people.
Men in military uniforms were standing or running along the beach, amongst some carts and stacks of supplies, interspersed with other people in t-shirts and jeans, carrying equipment. Tara saw large cameras, similar to the one she had spotted earlier on the helicopter. The crewmembers were handing the uniformed men weapons of some sort.
Fascinated in spite of herself, Tara moved to the front of the crowd for a closer look. She had never seen a movie being filmed before, but she recognized the proceedings as such. Another Viet Nam movie? she groaned internally. After Apocalypse Now, I don't think I can stomach -- No, wait.
The uniforms were wrong, for one thing. Those looked like German uniforms, and not even Nazi uniforms of the Second World War. Overhead, a biplane zoomed from somewhere back towards the hotel towards the ocean, confirming what Tara thought: this movie was taking place during the First World War.
A dark-haired woman in black tank-top and jeans strolled across the sand, calling out in a husky voice, "Alright, stuntguys, into the padding." Most of the "soldiers" quickly began to put elbow and knee pads on underneath pants and jackets. The brunette meticulously placed each of the men in certain positions; obviously, Tara thought, she was the stunt coordinator. She felt a nudge beside her as a little boy, about four or five, tried to peek through to see the action. Tara sidestepped a little to let him go by to stand in front of her.
A young man with a bullhorn addressed the crowd: "All right, everybody, this is a take. You're welcome to take pictures, but please, don't move around -- you'll spoil the shot."
The activity reached a fever pitch as production assistants spoke into walkie-talkies, cameras were brought up to speed, then the brunette yelled "Action!" The biplane zoomed over the beach as the "soldiers" took aim and fired at it. Explosions dotted the sand, simulating dropped bombs and detonated munitions.
Smoke machines added to the general atmosphere as the "soldiers" stumbled about, knocked down by explosions and "bullets" from the biplane. The crowd erupted in unabashed applause as the spectacle continued, the biplane swinging out over the sea.
"Zoom!" the little boy cried, imitating the biplane. Tara smiled at him, stifling an urge to ruffle his hair. She saw an older woman, in a dark funeral-type dress, look over at the toddler as well, then turned back to the ersatz battlefield.
"Here he comes again!" someone in the crowd yelled unnecessarily as the biplane completed its turn and came for another pass. Some of the "soldiers" who were still functional fired at the plane. It was getting harder to see what was going on from the crowd's perspective, the smoke machines were really working overtime. A series of massive explosions stunned the crowd further; Tara felt the shockwaves snatch at her breath.
It took long moments for the smoke to clear this time...only to disclose the horrific sight that caused the crowd to scream. Bodies torn apart by the explosion littered the beach. One man, lying on his back, tried to reach down past his waist for the leg that was now several feet away from him. His companion was even more unlucky, cut in half below the belly. A third man was decapitated.
Tara scooped up the little boy, turned his head from the bloody sight, as she screamed "Medic! Medic! Somebody get the medic!" She saw one spectator trying not to retch, and the old woman put her hand to her mouth in horror.
The brunette on the beach, the stunt coordinator, seemingly unmoved by all this carnage, called out, "Cut! Print it!"
Before Tara could even muster a shout of rage, the dead and torn bodies stood up, showing that their wounds were nothing but prosthetics, their real limbs and torsos and heads buried in the sand. The crowd went from screaming and crying to hysterical laughter and applause as they realized the prank played on them. Tara said to the little boy, "Look, honey, it's okay, they're all right." He wriggled away from her; she let him go find his mommy.
The assistant with the bullhorn congratulated the crew. "Great show, Faith, you gave everyone a heart attack!"
"Willow'll hate it," the stunt coordinator, Faith, called back. "She said 'get it in one,' right? Now watch: she'll do six hours of pick-ups!"
The stuntman near her laughed, muttering something along the lines of "It's Miller Time!" and accepted her thanks in return for a great gag.
Tara had been amused despite herself, but she was angry that they had so cavalierly scared the little boy. It wasn't exactly her place to say so, but it might be worth a comment. She saw a stairwell lead down to the beach, and half-heartedly went toward it, intending to strike up a conversation with someone about the spectacle, but only if she didn't get in the way of their production.
Halfway down the stairs, she noticed the old woman, who had climbed down before her, approach a young man in jeans and t-shirt. Tara thought his brown hair and square jaw looked vaguely familiar. She found out why when the old lady asked, in a southern accent, "Are you Riley Finn, the actor?"
"Yes, ma'm," Riley replied, all politeness.
"Could I have yuh autograph?" He seemed genuinely pleased to accommodate her, taking her little autograph book and pen with extraordinary care. "Could ya make it 'To Emily, for eternal peace.'?" He nodded and made the inscription, then handed it back for her inspection. "Ah'm certainly glad you weren't hurt," she added.
"Uh, no, ma'm, they don't let me play with the dangerous toys," Riley said, with just the right hint of self-deprecation.
She tucked her pen and book back in her purse, then looked back up at him. "Ah lost my husband and my son in the wars, both of 'em," she added sadly, before walking off along the beach.
Tara stared after her awhile, so lost in her own thoughts that she didn't notice the helicopter approach and land a couple hundred yards away.
Willow Rosenberg stepped out of the chopper, ducking her head unnecessarily to avoid the rotating blades and strode across the grass in front of the hotel, royally pissed.
Anya Jenkins, Willow's chief assistant, financial conscience, punching bag and stooge, ran up to her. "What happened, Willow?" she asked, concerned over what came over the walkie-talkie some minutes ago.
"The only thing the divers found in the car was the fucking camera!" Willow snarled. Anya knew that she only swore in a rare temper.
She also knew Willow was more anguished than angry. "And Darla?"
"No Darla. They're searching the riverbanks upstream. But," she intoned in a commanding tone, "don't say anything to anybody for a while."
"Judas Priest," Anya muttered.
"Oh, yes," Willow answered, leaning on a vehicle parked nearby, biting back tears. "Judas Priest."
"What d'ya want to do, Will?"
"I do not know, Anya! Maybe I'll call my mother and have her convince me it's my fault for not going to medical school!" Anya took the rebuke in stride; certainly it was not the first nor the worst. Willow shook her head. "What in God's name happened?"