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Authors: Susan Dunlap

Hungry Ghosts

BOOK: Hungry Ghosts
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Copyright © 2008 by Susan Dunlap. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Dunlap, Susan.

Hungry ghosts / by Susan Dunlap.

p. cm.


San Francisco (Calif.)—Fiction.
I. Title.

86 2008



Cover design by Kimberly Glyder Design

Interior design by Gopa&Ted2, Inc.


2117 Fourth Street

Suite D

Berkeley, CA 94710

Distributed by Publishers Group West


To Erin Williams,
with love


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31






in San Francisco, but I'd never noticed this Victorian, much less its turret roof, thrust out thirty-five feet above Broadway. Now, in the eternity between taking position on the steep tiles and getting the cue for my stunt, I was noticing it plenty. The crew had coated the tiles with stickum, but before I could get my feet in place the fog had washed them slick. My legs bowed, feet curling around the curve of the roof, jamming against the tiles. I pressed and released my toes to keep the soles from going numb. A rust-eaten weather vane jerked in the wind; I used it for balance, but it would never hold my weight.

Below, the marquee lights of the strip joints flashed red-bulbed nipples on watermelon breasts. Headlights swept left as cars swung into the detour around the camera crane and the scurrying crews. The first unit—the director, actors awaiting their shot at the post-dawn light—were out of the makeup wagon and gathered around the lunch cart on the sidewalk half a block east. The second unit—the stunt crew—director, other stunt doubles, special effects guys—kept their distance. They would have watched the run-through on this stunt last night when the catcher bag spit Jenny Chin back up and onto the sidewalk. They must have heard the crack when
her kneecap shattered. Heard her scream and then the roar of the ambulance racing from the corner where another one now stood.

My hand tightened on the useless weather vane. Maybe Jenny Chin hadn't run a gauge on the catcher bag's pressure; she could have miscalculated the blowup ratio for her weight. I'm careful, meticulous. I wanted to believe she wasn't, that the error had to be hers, not caused by a cheap bag, a bad gauge, or shoddy tie-downs I hadn't even been able to see in the dark.

“Too late now!” I said aloud to buoy myself. But I heard the quiver in my voice. The director called me to replace Jenny because of my reputation from East Coast and L.A. jobs, right? Not because I was new on the books back here in the city I'd left as soon as I could get out. Not because, like coming back home, I had no choice.

Already the nightlife quality of the street was fading; in ten minutes it would be dawn and the illusion of dusk we were creating would no longer be possible. We had one take for this gag. No way could I afford to blow it off. Nor end up like Jenny Chin.

“Two minutes!” the director called.

The wind snapped the short kimono I was wearing against my icy legs. Concentrate! Don't think! Not about San Francisco. Not about steering clear of it. Not about coming back here where every street held memories of Mike; not about his leaving. Focus on the gag. Nothing else.

I stared down. The thirty-five-foot fall would take 1.4755 seconds, barely time to throw myself heels over head, flail for the camera, and stretch out horizontal, spine down to hit the bag and spread the force of impact throughout maximum body surface. Come down curled and you take it fully on your spine—or your head. I brought every bit of my attention inward, mentally ran through the gag, felt my legs pushing off hard, feet pulling free of the gunk on the tiles, the dive into the header toward
the bull's-eye on the bag, the twist and stretch. I could feel my back land softly on the bag, could feel a smile spread, could hear the applause of the second unit gang.

“One minute!”

A minute is an eternity when you've done everything already.

The icy wind snapped the gold silk against my ribs and turned the black strands of my wig to razors. Down below, the grips pushing props and hauling dollies pulled up fast. Cameramen shifted behind their lenses. The gaffer switched on the overhead spot on the crane, turning the street black and white. Broadway was dead still: no traffic, no sound. Two blocks away south of me, on a futon above the Barbary Coast Zen Center, my Zen teacher, Leo Garson, was sleeping. He couldn't bear the thought of watching me fall.

I made one final spot check for the red bull's-eye in the middle of the bag, then cut my eye-line to the ground. From now on I'd look only outward. Walling out all thoughts, in that endless minute I stared straight ahead to Pacific Avenue, spotting the
by its curlicued roof.

“Twenty seconds, Darcy!” the director yelled.

He cued for lights and camera. A gust shook the turret. I grabbed, steadied, straightened up. A huge spotlight began a circle that would end on the turret and be my cue to move. The light, ten times brighter than day, panned across the street along the empty roofs of the Broadway strip joints, the bookstores and offices and decorators' shops on Pacific Street, on a corner of the roof of the Barbary Coast Zen Center.

Lit up a man walking across that roof.

A tall, thin man with red, curly hair like my own.

Mike, my brother, who'd been missing for 11 years.

“Mike! Omigod, Mike!” I pushed off to catch him before he vanished. My foot burned and hit air. I froze, panicked. I jolted back, lurched for
the weather vane, grabbed it with both hands. It shook, bent. I pushed my foot hard into the tiles, willing the stickum to hold. A gust flung me to the side. Sweat ran down my back, down my legs, over my feet. I was shaking all over.

“Ten seconds!”

Forget Mike! Concentrate on the gag! But I peered into the dark for the zendo roof. The light had moved away. Mike
have been there, but—

The spotlight slapped my arm. I jolted. I wasn't ready, wasn't set. I'd forgotten all about the gag. Thirty-five-foot fall. What was I . . .

The camera was on me! No time to recheck—the light steamed my skin.

1.4755 seconds, the time it takes to snap your fingers. I pushed off hard. The run-through in my memory took over. Silence was thick around me; the light walled off my eyes. For an instant I floated in that magic moment of fullness that mysteriously lures one to jump.

The moment vanished. I plunged, my head straight down. The red circle on the bag raced up toward me. Air slammed my face. I flailed my legs and arms for the camera, pulled my body the way it was supposed to be. Had to be. Hair whipped my face, covered my eyes; I squinted through it, ready to hit the mark I couldn't see. To hit it dead-on perfect.

The bag was like cement. It slammed my shoulder. I bounced. My feet were in air; I wasn't in the bag! I was on the edge. Flying off the edge like Jenny Chin. I crashed onto the sidewalk. Pain shot through me, walled out the world. It was all I could do to breathe. I couldn't feel my legs, my shoulder, my back, nothing but the tsunami of pain. Noise splattered. Someone was yelling.

“What?” I forced out.

“Are . . . you . . . okay?” a male voice yelled in my ear.

“Yeah.” I was using every speck of air that hadn't been knocked out of me. My feet burned; my legs felt like crumbling cement. I doubled over, couldn't straighten up. Needed air. My lungs ached. Red dripped from my shoulder. I breathed in as hard as I could, commanded myself to straighten up. “I'm fine.” A gofer threw a blanket over my shoulders.

“You nearly missed it!” The second unit director's voice seared with blame.

“Like Jenny Chin?” I was in his face. “Your stunt double blows out her kneecap. Your replacement does it spot-on and gets tossed onto the sidewalk. You looking for blame, Sparto, get yourself a mirror!”

Robin Sparto was a little wiry man with a pale mouth that couldn't decide which way to shift. In another second it'd stretch into outrage. But I'd be out of here then. So much for this job I thought I couldn't afford to blow.

He made some crack about me and the cable car leap, but I didn't have time to deal with that. A cab was about to take the detour. I hailed it and ran.

I had to have imagined Mike up there on the roof. He'd been out of my life more than twenty years. I couldn't let him disappear again.


?” the cabby asked as I threw myself into the back.

“Just go!”

He shot forward, screeching to a stop at the light.

“Hey, lady, you okay?” He turned full around, a big, round-faced guy who looked like his other job was as a bouncer, like “okay?” meant “able to pay?”

“I'm fine. Drop me at Pacific and Sansome.”

“What about the airport?”

“Just go!”

“A two-block fare! Hey, I gotta make a living.”

“From all the fares you rejected at this hour?”

BOOK: Hungry Ghosts
4.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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