You’d never think about Charlie Rose’s stunt double. Why would you? That’d be stupid. And yet, there he sits – Frank. He sits, blinking, in a wicker chair. It has to be wicker. It’s deemed so, specifically, in Charlie’s contract. Frank sits in his wicker chair (quite comfy) every day watching Charlie work – the cameras, the lights, the Greek economist discussing inflation fluctuation – wondering if today will be the day. Today is never the day.
Frank discovered early that the only thing he excelled at was taking pain and compressing it into a tiny sphere, then ultimately swallowing that sphere. He’d fallen off the roof of his step-dad’s shed reaching for a branch. Flat on his back, as the neighborhood kids circled around him in wonder, Frank found himself instinctively compressing and swallowing. Soon, he had the kids at school paying good money to sock him in the gut, kick him in the kidneys, the girls smacking him across his face. Naturally, this pattern of behavior led Frank to the field of stunt substitution. Producers marveled at his ability to be dragged behind a horse, to wrap a late-model sedan around the trunk of a tree, or to take a punch and tumble down a cliff. It wasn’t until the mid-eighties when Frank caught his big break as Jan-Michael Vincent’s stunt double on Airwolf. And as it turned out, Charlie Rose’s favorite TV show of all time was Airwolf. When Charlie went to sign his new contract he held a list of stipulations that had to be included: It was absolutely forbidden for anyone to refer to Mr. Rose as “Chuck.” For each and every taping there was to be a five-foot sub sandwich and a case of Schweppes ginger ale. And Mr. Rose would have a stunt double who’d sit in a wicker chair and be prepared at all times. Charlie had placed his hands on the glossy table and said, “Get me the Airwolf guy!”
Eight years ago, Frank struggled with pains that he couldn’t swallow. He was a single father (widowed as the result of an alligator accident) deep in debt trying to put his son through college and his daughter through her fourth stint at an in-patient rehab. After Airwolf was cancelled, Frank parlayed his new-found notoriety into a handful of well-paying jobs that always seemed to end before they began. When the producer from Charlie Rose called, it was like ropes of honey being poured into his ear: unlimited employment, health insurance, dental, optical. He was told the job required little effort, no risk, a perfect opportunity for a man of your age and profession.
From day one, Frank understood and accepted that his talents would go to waste. Whispers in the hallways spoke to Mr. Rose’s vanity. They said the only reason he had a stunt double was to impress guests at cocktail parties. They said the only reason he had a stunt double was so that he could stick it to Scott Pelley at press corps dinners. They also said the higher-ups at PBS were grumbling that eight years was a long time to keep someone on staff who spends his days sitting in a chair. These PBS fat-cats were sick of Charlie and his diva tendencies. Plans were in the pipeline to replace Mr. Rose with Anderson Cooper or maybe Laura Logan. Charlie sensed the way the wind blew and decided, after a quick discussion with his producer, to incorporate a stunt in tonight’s broadcast.
Look: Frank sits, reading the “T” volume of Encyclopedia Britannica, in a wicker chair. He looks up when the shadow casted by the producer robs his light.
“Frank. How are you feeling tonight? Loose? Limber?”
“I am.” Frank shuts his book with a snap. “What’s up?”
“It appears we will need your services. Mr. Rose has decided to add a touch of flair at the end of tonight’s broadcast.”
Frank asks what she has in mind. She says barrel roll. She says across the desk. She says dropping to the floor. “Once you land on your feet in a crouched position, Mr. Rose will take your place and implore the viewers to tune in to tomorrow night’s show when he will be interviewing former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.”
Frank doesn’t sit. He paces. He watches Charlie finish his interview. Everyone from the copy editors, the interns, and the cleaning crew are here, waiting, ready.
Still pacing, Frank closes his eyes to visualize the steps of his stunt. He stops to study Charlie’s large, round table that’s lit up like a slice of the moon. Frank hears the director yell “Action!” and gets a running start before he jumps and he tucks and he rolls.
Pete Stevens is the Fiction Editor at Squalorly. His work has appeared or is forthcoming at Pear Noir!, Prime Number and Red Fez, among others. He lives in Bay City, Michigan.