When the Star found the Stranger lounging on the $12,000 sofa in his trailer, he wasn't afraid at first, just annoyed.
His first question wasn't "Who are you?" because frankly, he didn't care.
Nor did he ask, "What do you want?" because that was obvious. Like everyone else, he wanted to tear off a little piece of star-shine for himself.
The star, whose name was Denis Flynn, had been a child actor who had had a rocky transition into adult roles, languishing in horror movies with numbers after their titles and doing television guest roles as ex-boyfriends on sitcoms and designated victims on crime shows.
There'd been the obligatory bar fights and rehab stints and everyone assumed he'd be another TMZ headline before he turned 30 but three years ago he'd done a Robert Downey, Jr. and blown everyone away in an indie movie called Slanguage. Since then they'd been offering Ryan Gosling his cast-offs and he'd been balls-deep in quality pussy.
When he saw the Stranger, whose name was Alex Mariana, Flynn was annoyed because Alex was a blip and when you're a star, there are people who are supposed to take care of blips before they cross your radar.
So while he made a mental note to make his personal assistant's life miserable for not dealing with Alex, the question Flynn asked was, "How did you get in here?"
And actually, it was a serious question because after a series of stalker incidents involving a female director working on the lot, security was supposed to be tight.
"Wasn't that hard," Alex said with a grin, and just like that, Denis was looking at a perfect double of the movie's cinematographer.
"Shit," Flynn said as the shape-shifter melted back into his original shape.
"So what do you want?"
Alex grinned wider. "I'm here to talk business," he said.
Alex had to give the Star credit. He'd been pulling one of these jobs once a year for the last decade and almost without exception he'd had to spell things out for the marks. It wasn't that they were stupid; they just couldn't quite wrap their heads around the idea that they were so vulnerable. Flynn, though, he seemed to grasp the situation perfectly right away.
Instead of launching into a lot of hand-wringing and macho posturing, Flynn just went over to the full-size fridge his assistant kept stocked with gluten-free snacks and artisanal glacier water, and pulled out a one-ounce bag of organic kale chips.
He sat down in a chair that matched the sofa, kicked back and started snarfing his chips.
"Do me," he said. "I want to see your me."
Alex obliged. "We're the same height," Alex said, so that makes it easier. I'm pretty flexible, so I can go up or down an inch or two. But if you were really six one like it says on IMDB, we wouldn't be a perfect match.
Alex could tell the star didn't like that but he just shrugged. "Fair enough," he said.
Flynn seemed mesmerized by Alex's counterfeit of himself.
"Change back," he finally ordered. "Looking at you is too much like being in a dream and seeing myself dead."
It was quiet in the trailer for a bit, quiet enough Alex could hear each individual crunch as Flynn ate his chips. Finally Flynn screwed up the bag and looked around as if waiting for someone to take it from him and dispose of it properly.
When no one materialized, he set his trash on the birdseye maple coffee table that drew the trailer's décor together with its golden hues.
"How much?" he asked.
"A hundred thousand," Alex replied.
Flynn lifted his eyebrows. "You think small," he said.
"I'm not greedy," Alex replied.
"And if I don't pay?"
"There are so many options," Alex said. "Couch jumping on a talk show; melting down in a racist rant; propositioning a male masseuse."
"The couch jumping was a good one," Flynn said.
"So how does this work? You want me to write you a check?"
"Money orders. In thousand dollar increments. Have your assistant buy them at separate Western Union branches all over the city. Don't fill out the buyer's section, I'll take care of that."
"And how do I get you the money?"
"Put it in a Fred Siegel bag and give it to that hot girlfriend of yours."
For the first time Flynn looked angry.
"Leave Danica out of this."
"She'll never even see me," Alex promised. "Get the money together," he said. "I'll let you know where and when Danica can make the drop."
It turned out that within three miles of the studio in either direction there were more than a hundred PayDay Plus and Paycheck Advance and Western Union franchises and it only took Flynn's assistant three hours to buy100 money orders.
He didn't bother to ask Flynn what the money orders were for because he never questioned his boss, and Flynn wouldn't have told him anyway.
He did, however, make a discreet phone call to the National Enquirer to tell them Flynn might be falling back into his old drug-buying ways. It wouldn't be the first time he'd scored some cash for a hot tip.
It was near-dark when Danica showed up at the little pocket park on Moorpark in Studio City. She walked over to a picnic table, sat down with the Fred Siegel bag, smoked a cigarette and then got up, leaving the bag behind. Alex had chosen the hand-off place because the park was small enough he could see from one side to another, and it was bounded on two sides by major streets, so if he saw someone coming, it would be easy enough to lose them by slipping into another skin and just blending in with the pedestrians.
But as he entered the park, the only person he saw was an old Asian lady powerwalking toward the spot where a tai chi group gathered every evening at six.
Alex made it to the picnic table and casually scooped up the bag. He knew it was stupid to look inside, but he did anyway. The money orders were there, paper-clipped together in a nice fat bundle.
Smiling, he turned to walk back to the curb where he'd left his car, a two-year-old Prius.
Suddenly the old Asian lady was there between him and the car and she had a knife in her hand and then the knife was in Alex.
As he staggered back against the car she leaned in to him.
And in a voice that wasn't an old lady's voice at all, Denis Flynn said, "Did you really think you were the only shape-shifter in Hollywood?"