"Like that would ever happen!" I exclaimed as I reached for the remote to turn off the television.
I'd been forced by my girlfriend to sit through the whole of 'My Fake Fiancé' staring Melissa Joan Hart and some guy. At last, it had ended. The story basically involved MJH and the guy faking a wedding so that they would get gifts and money so replace the stuff that she had stolen and to pay off his gambling debts. Obviously they hate each other at first but end up falling in love.
"What do you mean?" Rachel asked.
"Two big things, the first is that there is no way that it would not cross their minds that in doing this, they might actually develop feelings for each other. I don't see the point in these movies, you know that they are going to fall in love; you know it from the outset. Otherwise it would not be called a romantic comedy. Although given how it wasn't funny in the least, I can't work out how they get away with calling it a comedy."
"And the second thing is?"
"It's Melissa Joan Hart. You will not find any right thinking man in his late twenties and thirties who wouldn't not run off and marry her in a heartbeat. Yet her parents keep saying that they believed she would never get married. What kind of parents do that to their children?
"It's like all these Rom-coms, they take incredibly attractive women and then demand that you believe they are perpetually lonely and loveless. Then all it takes are some contrived circumstances and a good looking man. It's Hollywood's war on the ugly. They are saying that if even beautiful people can't find a partner, ever, what hope have the uglies got? And fair enough with J-Lo or Jennifer Whatsherface, you might thing twice because of the whole mystique around them, but Melissa Joan Hart, she is just so adorable, cute and bubbly."
"She's on one of your lists isn't she?"
"Yep, the second one."
Rachel groaned. I had two lists. The first list was my 'I would cheat with her behind your back' list. This contained all the women that if I could I would have a one-night stand with. The second, shorter, list was the 'I'd leave you and marry them' list. Rachel was amused when she heard about them, reasoning that I'd never meet any of the people on the list anyway, what's the harm in me having my fantasies? It even sparked up a little role-play. Although she had threatened to batter me if Keira Knightley ever appeared in the second list. I assured her that Keira was a list one person only, I'd probably break her after repeated uses, and anyway, I couldn't imagine meal times being that great with her.
"You know she's a Republican don't you?" Rachel enquired.
"Why do you know that?"
"And why were you looking that up?"
Research was Rachel's go to excuse, being a university lecturer in Media and Culture, there were few subjects where she couldn't use that as an excuse for covering up ulterior motives.
We retired to bed, with Rachel pretending that she was a teenage witch looking for an older wizard to mentor her in the ways of the world.
Work was shit on Monday. Then again, it has been shit everyday for the past four years. My only solace was that they paid me very well. I'd relapsed into that stage where I cared so little about the company that there was no stress at all.
I stopped into Tesco on the way home to pick up some food for later; and couple of bottles of wine for the week. Seeing the queues at the checkouts, I opted for one of the serve yourself tills. Just my luck, the blonde woman in front of me was having issues with it. The machine was playing up, and as is the situation every time that happens, there were no staff around to help.
"Let me see if I can help." I offered.
"Thanks." She responded, not looking back. I couldn't place her accent, it was English, but very obviously so, with no hint that it came from any region.
I moved to the touch screen and opened up the staff menu and tapped in a user number and pin then managed to clear the problem.
"I got so sick of waiting for help on these machines, I watched one of the girls type in her details, it saves me a lot of time." I explained.
"Are you allowed to do that?"
"I don't know, but it saves a lot of time."
She still hadn't looked at me. I noticed that she had a lot of heavy juice bottles in her bags, but no trolley. "Do you want a hand getting these to your car?"
"Err, no, it's okay, I only live around the corner." She finished paying and turned around. Fuck the crows, it was Melissa Joan Hart herself!
"Melissa." I gasped. "What on Earth are you doing in Basingstoke?"
A doomed look flashed over her face, it was then replaced by that smile that had made her famous.
"Tell you what, you help me with the bags, and I'll tell you the story." Now she spoke in her American accent. "Just promise you won't let on to anybody."
I put my shopping through the till, using the codes to let me buy the wine without having to wait an hour for some kid to check my age. I picked up both of my bags and the two heaviest of Melissa's and followed her out of the shop. I followed her down a few familiar back streets before we stopped at a nondescript two-up, two down. I laughed to myself.
"What's so funny?"
"I figured out where this house backs onto."
"The garden backs onto the garden of my house."
"No word of a lie."
"What are the chances?"
She opened up and let me in. Lucky that I didn't have anything that needed the freezer, so I left my shopping near the door and took hers into the kitchen. I looked around, knowing that she had a husband and kids, but could see no sign of anybody but her living here. She quickly packed the shopping. I noticed that she had few things in the cupboards and fridge.
"You know," she started, "this story would actually sound better with a bit of liquid refreshment. Can we open up one of your wines?"
I nodded and she produced to plastic cups. There is always something fun about drinking cheap plonk from disposable cups. She let me grab a bottle then led me to the lounge. There was just a sofa with a white throw over it. I sat down at one end and started to unscrew the bottle. I poured out two large glasses and took a sip. For Californian Chardonnay, it wasn't too bad.
"So..." I ventured.
"So." She slipped her wine. "How much do you know about me?"
"I know you are married and have two kids, although I can't see any evidence of them here."
"Okay, let's start there. My children are with my parents. I'm not sure where, they are taking them somewhere safe."
"Safe, as in away from Mark, my husband."
"Why, what has he done?"
"I don't know exactly. It's not him really. It's the people he knows. I still don't know the truth, if he was involved with them when we met, or did they recruit him later?"
"I don't know if you know this or not, but almost all Hollywood romantic comedies are backed, in some way, by Matthew McConaughey. Even those he doesn't star in, he still rakes in the profits. It was my husband who got me to do that fiancé film. It was for TV, but the real aim was to get me back doing those kind of films, so that I would be available for a big screen film with Matthew."
"Well, firstly, that fiancé script sucked." I nodded my agreement, "and the Hollywood film would have been no better. I don't want a pile of horseshit like that on my CV; I want to be taken seriously. But more importantly, I've heard what happens when you work with Matthew McConaughey."
"Girls who work with him are never the same again, never. There are rumours of rituals he carries out, trying to claim pieces of their souls. I didn't want any part of it, I tried to decline but there were threats, 'accidents' happened, Mark tried to make me sign the contract, and it was then I knew I had to get away. I asked my parents to guard my kids, and then I ran away, leaving the country and coming here."
"Isn't there anybody you can contact?"
"Who? Matthew McConaughey owns the police. No government agency will look at him, as thanks to affirmative action, there are women in many of the top roles, and high powered women get their kicks from watching his movies dreaming they were the ones who found love. There is no way you can get anybody to move against Matthew McConaughey.
"And worse than that, The Council of Four has declared me a wanted person: that means everybody in Hollywood is looking to turn me in. If anybody helps find me, they get a massive leg-up in the industry."
"The Council of Four?"
"The Council of Hollywood. They are behind everything that goes on over there, they not only run the film industry, but have influence across America."
"Who are they?"
"Matthew McConaughey is one, Adam Sandler, Michael Bay and Tom Cruise are the others."
"So you are saying that the film industry is run by three of the people responsible for the many of the worst films of the last two decades, and a guy who believes that we are all inhabited by the ghosts of dead aliens?"
"That explains so much!" I refilled our cups then leant back on the sofa. "So why Basingstoke?"
"I needed somewhere out of North America and where nobody would think of looking for me. You know, I never did ask your name."
"Bobby, Bobby Anthony."
"Well Bobby, now you've heard my story, I'm going to have to kill you. I can't have you repeating it."
"Gotcha!" Melissa burst out laughing.
"So, are your kids coming over soon?"
"They can't. We decided ... no, Mark decided and I agreed that we would get a tracker chip implanted in then in case of kidnap, you know, so we could always find them. This means that McConaughey can track them. Daddy knows a few of survivalists who live in a converted missile bunker, it is so well shielded that the babies can't be tracked while they are they, but if they were to move them, then they could grab them and then grab me."
"Shit, that sucks."
"Tell me about it."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Aside from a refill?" Melissa was putting it away tonight. "Well, if you know a way to neutralise the four most powerful men in the United States, one of the largest and best financed industries in the world and in the mean time keep me safe from their contacts over here, I'd be glad to know about it."
"Off hand, no. Unless you know some way of filming them in a Nazi orgy at Mel Gibson's house!"
"No, Mel always checks for hidden cameras before his orgies!"
I looked at her to see if she was joking or not. She kept a straight face, looking into my eyes. Wow, she was beautiful.
"Wow, you are beautiful." Dammit mouth, that wasn't meant to be said out loud.
"Thanks!" She smiled that smile again.
I thought now would be a good time to leave, before I embarrassed myself further. "Look, it's best if I get going. I should have been home ages ago. It was great to meet you."
"Likewise. Feel free to drop in again, I'm pretty much always here! And Bobby..."
"I won't tell anybody."
"Thanks." She kissed me on the cheek, and then went to open the door for me.
"Any chance I could use the back door and go through the gardens?"
She let me out the kitchen and using the light from the house I found my way to the back of the garden. I knew there was an old door in the fence that was locked from this side. I undid the latch and made my way into my garden, somewhat surprising Rachel when I knocked on the kitchen door.
"How the fuck did you end up there?"
"I met the new neighbour and was helping them with their shopping."
"Man neighbour or women neighbour?"
"A stunning twenty year old redhead?" She joked.
"No, she is definitely older than me!"
And that was enough to allay suspicions for now.
Rachel had to go off early Tuesday morning for a week long conference in Denmark, so retired to bed shortly after we'd eaten. I've a sneaking suspicion that it was to avoid me inquiring yet again what the conference was about, after all, how long can you really talk about the role on Lego in the Media?
I went to finish editing a video I'd been shooting for a mate. The computer with the editing software lived up in the back bedroom. I looked out of the curtains and across the gardens, and saw the silhouette of Melissa in her back bedroom. I'm ashamed to say what I did next. Actually, no I'm not, you would have done exactly the same in the same situation, I plugged in the mini-camcorder to the computer and mounted in the windowsill. This was one of those cameras with a ridiculous range of zooms, so very quickly my 28in monitor was filled with the image of Melissa Joan Hart in her underwear drinking a glass of wine and dancing.
I watched her hand tracing lines down her body, stopping and massaging her wonderful breasts. Her right hand drew circles around her stomach before diving out of view, below the line of the window. I didn't need to guess where it went as I saw her tense up and shudder soon afterwards. Her elbow moved with a telltale rhythm and her eyes were soon shut as she looked to the ceiling, gasping for air.
I saw her mouth open in a silent scream as she came, and then stood there, panting. I was amazed and awestruck. More amazing was that she then walked over to the window, waved at me and closed the curtains. That dirty minx. Needless to say I had to jerk off before I went back to Rachel.
An idea struck me while at work on Tuesday. On the way home, I again popped into Tesco and this time went for a couple of bottles of French wine, none of this new-world shit. I knocked on Melissa's door just after six.
"I see you've been let out again." She smiled as she opened the door.
"The missus is away this week; I've not got a curfew."
"So what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Well, I thought I could try and help you out. I've figured out something that might put them off your trail a bit."
"What is it?"
"We send some celebrity gossip sites a few candid snapshots of you on holiday. Beach photos in Thailand for example."
"And how would we get beach photos of me in Thailand?"
"We fake them. Trust me, I've faked enough photos in my time, I can get them to look convincing."
"Bet they'll be able to trace who sent the photos, and it would lead back here."
"No, the company I work for has access to proxy servers and phantom identities across the world. If we want these to be sent by a photographer in Phuket, then they will look like they have been sent by a photographer in Phuket."
"So what is it that you do then?"
"We call it Search Consultancy. People come to us when they want to find information. We work on the theory that everything can be found on the Internet if you know where to look. Even if that document or picture doesn't exist yet."
"It is until you've been doing it for five years, then it looses its mystique."
"Back to the photos then, what do we need?"
"I've got the camera, a blank background sheet and lighting. I just need you in a swimsuit. Have you got one?"
"I came to England on the run in the middle of winter, what do you think?"
"Well, can you go and buy one?"
"Possibly, but I'm running low on ready cash, and every time I go out, I'm more likely to be recognised."
"I think I have a solution to that too." I took out an envelope and package from my workbag. I handed her the envelope. "You are now Caroline Fisher, she has a healthy bank balance and a passport, driver's licence, credit cards, all the necessary documents and histories. Everything you need is in there."
She opened the envelope and was shocked to find whole fake identity in there. She flicked through the passport then stopped. "The photo looks like me, but the woman has long dark hair and dark rimmed glasses, I don't have them."
I passed her the package, which contained a believable wig and a few sets of glasses.
"Okay, where did you get these?"
"The government likes to outsource lots of things that it shouldn't. They use my company to create fake identities for the security forces. Caroline Fisher was created a few years ago for a cancelled project. She has sat dormant for a while, her history generating itself, money going in and out of her account, a few different jobs, moving house and so on. She is of a similar age to you, so I just used an edited photo of you to create the photo-ids, and then printed off the whole lot."
"And nobody minds?"
"The advantage of working with secrets, few people are ever aware of them. And most of those people move on."
"I feel like a spy!" Melissa now had the wig and glasses on.
We sat around and chatted for a few hours. Melissa didn't once mention the show she had given me the night before. By ten o'clock I left through the back door, getting a kiss on the cheek for my trouble.
It was Wednesday afternoon when I got a knock on the kitchen door. Melissa was outside in a grey t-shirt and baggy joggers. She was holding a couple of bags. She kissed me on the cheek after I had let her come in. From one of the bags she produced a bottle of Italian white wine.
"I don't suppose now is the time to say that, all in all, I prefer beer?" I laughed.
"You will get what you are given and be glad of it." Melissa said with mock sternness.
I led her into the lounge, which wasn't exactly homely at the moment. Most of the furniture had been covered with a vast green sheet. A lighting rig stood in one corner of the room with various diffusers set up on it. The lights were aimed at a white wooden sunlounger that I've taken in from the garden. We started on the wine, with her leaning back on the chair and me sitting on the floor next to her, propped up by some cushions.
"Happy Holidays." She toasted, clinking my glass.
"I have a bit of bad news," I started, "it seems that McConaughey does have the connections you told me about. There are tons of electronic trip-wires that will trigger if I even attempt to access his personal details in the normal way."
"What were you trying to do?"
"Nothing yet, I was just scouting around."
"Would you really go after him for me?"
"I would. But this isn't just for you anymore. This is Matthew Mahogany, so I need to bring him down on behalf of every man who has had to sit though one of his insipid films because their better half made them. This is for every guy who has known the dread that seeing one of those adverts on the side of buses where he is leaning on something brings, because they know they will be made to watch another of his rom-coms."
"Not a fan?"
"Not a fan."
It wasn't soon before we had polished off the first bottle of wine. Melissa went to fetch the second bottle from the fridge. When she came back, I decided that we needed to get to work.
"Any more wine, and I'll probably fuck up the photos. If you go and get into your bikini, we can get this party started."
She nodded at me, and made to pull off her sweatshirt. My heart jumped for a split second, thinking she was going to change in front of me, but I reassured myself that she probably just had the costume on underneath it. No, I was right first time, she was not wearing anything under her top. There was a small clunk as my jaw hit the floor. Maybe having children had helped her boobs grow a bit, but they were still firm and proud, daring me to look away.
She dropped her trousers, and again, she had gone commando. Clean shaven, I saw a glisten of moisture on her pussy. I gazed at this flawless idol and swallowed hard, not willing to believe this woman in my house was the one who I had grown up with on television. For her part, she was unfazed, calmly fishing her bikini from the bag and putting it on, not asking for help or even acknowledging my existence.
She had chosen a classic two-piece in a rich royal blue. It wasn't cut too revealing, making your imagination do the work on the promise that the effort will be worth it.
"Perfect." I said. She smiled in response.
"Shall we open the next bottle then?"
"Do you drink wine on the beach?"
"No, normally a cocktail. Tequila Sunrise mainly."
"Okay, we'll get you one of them." I went into the corner of the room and uncovered the drinks cabinet. A couple of minutes later and I had two highball glasses of Sunrise, one for me so she didn't have to drink alone. I decorated her one with slices of orange and some ridiculous umbrellas.
I turned on the lighting rigs and set up the white balance on my camera, using a neutral grey card. I'd marked out exactly where I needed to take the photo from, so set the camera up on a mini tripod, took a few test shots for the exposure and focus I went back over to Melissa.
"I guess you are used to photo shoots. Just pretend the camera isn't there and you are relaxing on holiday."
She nodded and very professionally got on with posing. I used a remote trigger to make sure the camera didn't shake and just let Melissa get on with moving into position. I took a few shots with her holding a drink and some with her facing towards the camera talking on my phone. I hoped that we could waste people's time trying work out who she was talking to.
Satisfied that I'd got my shots, I turned off the lights.
"Is that it?"
"Sure, we only need three or four shots."
"Ahh, I was trying starting to enjoy that. So what are you going to do with the pics?"
"You want me to show you?"
I beckoned for her to follow me upstairs. I waited for a moment in case she decided to grab some more clothes, but no, she followed me straight away. The heating bill this month is going to cost me a fortune.
There is only one chair in my office, partly because there is little room but mostly to give Rachel the hint that this is not a sharing space. I sat down while Melissa hovered behind me, her hand on my shoulder. I plugged the camera's memory card into the PC and moved the files onto the hard drive, converting them to Abode Digital Negatives.
In Photoshop, I opened up the base pictures, a set of stock photos that one of our contacts in Thailand had taken. They all showed a beach bar, full of people but there was an empty sun-lounger, almost identical to mine, at the centre of the shot.
Using Lightroom to alter the colour temperature of the lounge shots to match those at the beach, I selected the best four photos that I'd taken and loaded them into Photoshop. While they were loading I took another sip of the cocktail.