So what was he going to do to protect the entertainment industry?
âWe're going to be vigilant. We're not closing anything down. No studios, no theme parks, no guided tours. Entertainment is this city's lifeblood and we're not going to allow a bunch of psychopaths to cut off our blood supply. Security at all major studios will be intensified, both by police presence and by private security officers. There will be some delays and some inconveniences, especially at public attractions such as Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and all the various studio tours. But we are absolutely determined that a whole city's way of life will not be undermined by a rabid minority.'
Were they any closer to finding out who Dar Tariki Tariqat actually were, and making any arrests?
âWe have a number of promising leads that we're working on right now, so I can't say too much about this. But I'll have to admit that we're still no nearer to discovering exactly who these people are, or if they're affiliated to any known terror organization such as Al Qaeda.'
You've already brought in Nevile Strange, the well-known psychic detective. Is this an early admission that you don't think you're going to be able to solve this case by conventional police procedure?
âNot at all. The Los Angeles Police Department has the most experienced detectives and forensic specialists working round the clock and I have every confidence that they are going to hunt these terrorists down and bring them to justice. Mr Strange is a respected investigator with unusual but internationally acknowledged abilities, and I simply think I would have been failing in my duty if I hadn't availed myself of every possible assistance, no matter how unconventional it might be.'
Frank stayed up until well past two
., listening to all of their favorite songs on his headphones so that he wouldn't keep Margot awake. âWe Have All the Time in the World' by Louis Armstrong; âEasy' by The Commodores; âDays Like These' by Van Morrison. He had poured himself a large Stolichnaya but he didn't even sip it. He didn't feel like drinking anymore.
Eventually he took off the headphones, unbuttoned his shirt, and went through to his study so that he could sleep on the couch. Margot hadn't told him that he wasn't welcome back in the bedroom, but he couldn't face the thought of lying next to her all night when she felt so bitter toward him.
He was pulling off his socks when the phone rang.
âWho is this?'
âWho do you think it is?'
âAstrid? Do you have any idea what time it is?'
âOf course I do. I just wanted to tell you that I've been thinking about you.'
âI've been thinking about you, too.'
There was a long pause. It was so quiet in the house that he could hear Astrid breathing on the other end of the phone.
Eventually, she said, âI wanted to know when I could see you again.'
âTomorrow, if you like. I mean today. Maybe sometime in the afternoon. How does three o'clock sound?'
âThree o'clock sounds perfect. You can come round to my apartment if you like.'
âOK.' He didn't know what else to say.
Astrid hesitated, and then she said, âYou're worried, aren't you, because you can't work out who I am. Well, you needn't worry, because it doesn't matter.'
âHow can you say that? Of course it matters. Finding out who you are â that's part of the whole process of getting to know you, sharing things. All I know about you so far is that your father was a television producer and your mother was a dancer and that you wanted to be a doctor in Africa.'
âYou don't even know that. I lied.'
? What did you do that for?'
âBecause you wanted to know all about me and I didn't want to disappoint you. But I want you to like what you
, not what you
like what you see, don't you, Frank?'
âOf course I do. I'm not entirely sure where I stand, that's all.'
âI'll see you at three o'clock. Sleep well.'
Saturday, September 25, 10:09
Matty was already beginning to think that bringing the North Hollywood cub scout pack on a weekend outing to Universal Studios had been a very reckless idea. It was little more than an hour since the turnstiles had opened and yet the lines of hot and impatient sightseers were winding all the way back to the parking lot. Three police cars were parked close to the entrance, and everybody who passed through the turnstiles was being frisked by police and security guards and having their bags looked into. One or two were being taken aside and questioned more closely.
The Silber brothers had already gone missing twice, and so Matty had been forced to send Irene Wallach to find them, which meant that he had been left in sole charge of eighteen overexcited small boys, most of whom seemed to be desperate to go to the bathroom every three minutes.
Even more trying, with Irene Wallach rounding up the strays, Kevin Millfield had decided to attach himself to Matty and engage him in one of his long, lugubrious conversations. Matty was sure that Kevin was going to grow up to be a professional prophet of doom, or at the very least a loss adjuster.
Kevin had tufty brown hair and very large ears that shone red in the sunlight. Matty didn't think that he had ever seen him smile. As a cub scout, he was conscientious and thoughtful but completely incompetent at everything from tying knots to making an impromptu spit-roaster. His father owned Millfield's Sensible Shoe Stores on Magnolia.
âI can understand why all the major studios have tours,' he was saying, in his mournful monotone. âThey can make a profit out of all of their old movie sets â which are only a lot of junk, after all â and at the same time they can advertise their up-and-coming movies. But I do think that it spoils the illusion, finding out what goes on behind the scenes. Don't you, Mr Doggett?'
âDon't I what, Kevin?'
âDon't you think that these tours make it hard to believe in movies anymore?'
âWell, no, Kevin, not really. I think they're very interesting, and very educational. Did you see where Joey Mendez disappeared to?'
âI wouldn't go to see a magic act if the magician explained how he managed to saw a lady in half and put her back together again. I mean, what would be the point? Don't you think so, Mr Doggett?'
Matty caught sight of Joey Mendez and blew his whistle and furiously beckoned him to get back into line. âWhere have you been? You're supposed to stay with the group. What did I tell you? Stay with the group!'
âI saw the Terminator over there, sir. Like, the real-life Terminator. I had to go say
hasta la vista
âYou stay with the group, OK, or else the only person who's going to get terminated is you.'
âHe wasn't the
Terminator,' Kevin told Joey pedantically. âHe was only an actor.'
âOh, he was only an actor?' said Matty. âSo what do you think Arnold Schwarzenegger used to do for a living?'
After more than twenty minutes they finally reached the pay booths and Matty bought their group ticket. He had to squeeze, gasping, to get through the turnstile, because of the size of his belly.
A security officer immediately approached him and said, âHave to search you, sir. Sorry.'
âThat's OK. The only thing I'm smuggling under this shirt is a lifetime addiction to chicken-fried steak.'
âThese your boys?' the security guard asked him as he patted Matty's red and orange Hawaiian paunch.
âCubs from the Eighteenth Scout Troop. Don't worry, they'll only take about twenty minutes to wreck the place, then they'll leave.'
The security guard grinned at him and slapped him on the back. âHave a good day, sir, and thank you for your co-operation.'
The cub scouts whooped and jumped and ran off to claim their seats on the tram. Irene Wallach came across, all spindly arms and spindly legs, with buck teeth and wiry black hair and sunglasses with white upswept frames. âThis is the bit I like the best,' she confessed, linking arms. âWe can sit down and relax and we don't have to worry about losing them.'
âI'm getting too old for this,' said Matty, heaving himself up into the second to back bench of the first tram car. The bench behind them immediately filled up with giggling Japanese girls and a young man in a Desert Storm shirt and mirror sunglasses who was almost twice Matty's size.
âHave we decided on a date for Chula Vista yet?' asked Irene. She was wearing a loose pink blouse and Matty was disconcerted to see her left breast, as pale and as flat as a flapjack, with a raisin for a nipple.
âOh, you mean the cook-out? Ray suggested November twenty-third.'
âI think we ought to concentrate on ethnic food. You know, something healthy, like stir fry, or tacos. Stay away from hot dogs and cheeseburgers and all those saturated fats.'
âYou're not trying to make a point, are you?'
âOh, for goodness' sake, Matty! We all love you the way you are!'
âI know. A roly-poly figure of fun. Don't you know why fat men laugh? It's the only thing they can do to stop themselves from crying.'
The tram jerked and began to move. A tour guide with bouncy blonde hair and improbably white teeth picked up the microphone and said, âWelcome to Universal Studios, ladies and gentlemen and children! Today we're going to take you on a trip into the magical world of the movies â a ride that you'll never, ever forget!'
Kevin turned around to Matty and said, âWe won't forget it because we'll never be able to go to the movies again and think that they're true.'
âKevin, for Pete's sake, stop being so pessimistic. Besides, didn't you tell me you'd been on this tour once before?'
âThat's how I know how disappointed we're all going to be.'
Saturday, September 25, 10:32
As the tram slowly descended the slope toward the lake where Jaws would appear, Kevin said, dolefully, âThis is the lake where the great white shark comes out of the water and sprays everybody except that it's only rubber and nobody ever gets hurt.'
âThanks, Kevin,' said Matty. âThat's very reassuring. That's also spoiled the surprise for everybody else.'
But the big young man sitting right behind Matty suddenly let out a whoop, clapped his hands, and shouted, âWoweee! Ain't this something!'
Matty turned around and frowned at him, but the young man clapped his hands again, and stamped his feet on the floor of the tram. The Japanese girls who were sitting beside him looked alarmed, and edged themselves as far away him as they could.
âThis is the ride to glory!' the young man yelled. âThis train don't take no backsliders, this train! This is where we get to see God, in all His majesty! Yes, sir! This is going to be a ride to remember, all right!'
He stood up in his seat, his belly almost knocking Matty's cap off, and began to sway from side to side, clapping his hands with every sway, and letting out whoop after whoop.
The guide said, âSir â you at the back of the car â yes, you sir. Will you sit down, please? No standing is permitted while the tram is in motion. That's a city ordinance.'
The young man whooped again. âWe're coming to the Kingdom! We're coming to the Kingdom! This train don't take no unholy, this train!'
âSit down, sir! You'll have to sit down!'
But now the young man leaned over Matty and grinned at the cub scout pack. âDo you boys know where you're headed? Do you have
idea? You're headed for the Promised Land, that's where you're headed, and ain't you the lucky ones!'
The driver brought the tram to a stop, right next to Amityville Lake. On schedule â as part of the
display, the fishing pier was dragged away from its moorings, into the center of the lake, and a row of oil drums bounced across the surface as if they were being pulled by the great white shark. But the driver climbed out of his seat and came back toward the end of the car, and at the same time the guide picked up her radio-telephone and called for security.
âSir, I want you to step down out of the tram,' said the driver. He was over sixty years old, with gray hair, a gray moustache and a stoop. The young man looked down at him and let out another whoop.
âThis is destiny, old man. This is the force of nature. Ain't nothing on this earth can stand up against the force of nature.'
Matty turned around in his seat. âListen, you asshole. Get off the tram and stop upsetting all of these kids.'
The young man stared at him but all Matty could see in his mirror sunglasses was his own crimson face. Out on the lake, the row of oil drums began to bounce even faster toward the shoreline, but hardly anybody on the tram was watching.
âYou want to say hello to your maker?' the young man asked Matty.
Matty stood up so that the two of them were standing belly to belly. âDo you think I'm scared of you?' Matty challenged him. âI served in the Gulf, and I saw scarier camels than you.'
âOh, really?' the young man retorted, but this time his tone was quieter and much more reasonable. âSo how scary do you think
He lifted his fist and opened his fingers just a little and just for an instant, but it was enough for Matty to see the switch device that he was holding in the palm of his hand and the thin wire than ran down his arm and into the sleeve of his camouflage shirt.