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Beach Town
Mary Kay Andrews


Greer Hennessy needed palm trees. She needed Technicolor green fronds swaying in wind machine–enhanced breezes, with some Dolby-sound crashing waves. And was it too much to ask for a Panavision wide shot of a sun-kissed beach? Wasn’t this Florida?

Instead, the only trees she spied through the bug-spattered windshield of her rented Kia were part of an endless wall of tall spindly pines, underplanted with miles of palmetto clumps. She’d landed in Panama City three days earlier.

Before leaving L.A., she had browsed the Florida film and television commission website, which featured photos of every imaginable kind of scenery in the state, from the dark brown ribbon of the Suwannee River lazing through the northern edge of the state, to the green pastures of Ocala horse farms, all the way down to the funky conch cottages and banana palms of the Florida Keys.

Day one of her journey, she’d taken one look at the wall-to-wall high-rise hotels and condo towers lining Panama City Beach and headed west on US 98, and then over to 30A. She’d found palm trees, yes, but also an infestation of cuteness in planned beach communities with picturesque names like Seaside, Rosemary Beach, and Watercolor, which hugged both sides of the road on 30A and reeked of taste and money. The houses were as colorful as the community names and oozed magazine cover potential.

Pretty it was. Sleepy it wasn’t. The beach roads were clogged with BMWs and big SUVs, the highways crowded with outlet malls, convenience stores, and strip shopping centers.

The Gulf of Mexico, or what she could glimpse of it, was pretty enough, textbook turquoise, contrasted against sugar-white sand. Perfect for a chamber of commerce brochure but lousy for the kind of gritty location she was seeking.

At the overpriced condo she’d rented that second night in Destin, she asked around about nearby beach communities. Greer usually divulged her occupation and mission only when absolutely necessary.

“I’m looking for someplace quiet,” she’d said to the waitress at a pseudo-quaint breakfast place called Eggs ’n’ Joe. “Maybe a place with old-timey mom-and-pop motels? And, like, shrimp boats maybe?”

“Mexico Beach,” the waitress said, presenting her with a fourteen-dollar check for a bagel sandwich.

But Mexico Beach wasn’t it.

Apalachicola was next. Plenty of shrimp boats and oyster boats. She parked and walked around a bustling marina that even had a pier, snapping photos with her cell phone.

Not what I had in mind, Bryce Levy texted back.

Greer got in the Kia and drove, following the coastal Florida highway as it headed south and east.

She had high hopes for a place called Saint George Island. There she found a general store, a couple of motels, and a few scattered T-shirt shops. Sandy roads traversed the island, and large multistory houses stood silhouetted against sea oats and sand dunes.

She shot photos of the beach, one of the motels, and the entrance to the state park and e-mailed them to the producer/director. Her phone dinged a moment later with his text.


She thought again about the one brief meeting she’d had, two weeks earlier, with Bryce Levy, the newly anointed boy wonder of Hollywood.

Her best friend, CeeJay, was in the honeymoon phase of her fling with Bryce and had somehow managed to convince her new boyfriend that Greer was the only location manager experienced enough for his next big film project.

This despite the fact that Greer’s last location scouting job had literally ended up in highly publicized flames—with lawsuits and finger pointing and a near-fatal blot on her previously flourishing career.

CeeJay herself had driven Greer to the meeting with Bryce, which he’d insisted had to take place in total secrecy in his leased Brentwood mansion.

The producer wasn’t what she expected. CeeJay’s usual type was the hot, young starving artist, complete with black leather and body piercings.

Bryce Levy was none of these things. He was much older than CeeJay’s usual men. He was casually dressed, in an open-necked white dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to expose muscled forearms. He had a high forehead and a full crop of wiry blond hair. Wire-rimmed glasses sat atop a generous nose. He had expressive blue eyes and was laughing explosively at something his caller was saying. She guessed his age as late forties to early fifties. Except for the nose, which looked like it had been broken a few times, he was matinee idol handsome.

“This is a really high-concept piece,” Bryce said, settling back in his chair. “Action, some romance, with thriller elements. And I’ve signed two great leads. Adelyn Davis, you know her work, of course. And the male lead? Off the chain! It’s the guy’s first film, but he’s gonna be box office gold, I know.”

“You’ll die when you hear,” CeeJay said, eyes dancing with excitement.

“Ceej…” Bryce said, giving her a stern look.

“Okay, I’m not saying a word.”

“What can you tell me about the setting?” Greer asked.

“That part’s easy. It’s a beach town. A real sleepy, backwater kind of place. East Coast definitely. I need you to find me a place with a look that’s a cross between Body Heat and the town in Jaws.”

Greer blinked. “You want a cross between Florida and Nantucket?”

He nodded rapidly. “Yeah. I see palm trees. Long stretches of deserted beaches, some dunes with those wavy wheat-looking things…”

“Sea oats,” CeeJay said.

“Yeah. Sea oats. And then there should be trees with that Spanish moss stuff hanging down, beat-up old fishing boats. Atmospheric, you know?”

Greer nodded, her mind racing. Dunes, palm trees, shrimp boats, Spanish moss? He was definitely talking about a Southern beach.

“It should have a real throwback feeling, like the kind of town the world forgot about. We’ll need an old-school motel. Not a movie set, but an honest-to-God fleabag motel. No high-rise condos, fast-food joints, nothing that would suggest it’s a tourist trap, or that Walt Disney even exists. And we’re also gonna need a cool old building that can be exploded during the movie’s climax.”

She was taking notes while Bryce described the project.

“Any specific kind of old building?”

“I can visualize it, but I can’t really describe it,” he said. “It needs to have this iconic look—say, like, the Parthenon, or the Alamo. Like that.”

“But the movie is set in contemporary time?” Greer asked.

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