He knew what he was going to do, however, and nobody in the world was going to stop him.
Later that morning, when Astrid had left, Frank called his old friend John Berenger at Star-TV.
âSloop, it's Frank. How's it going?'
âAre you kidding me? It's the California Gold Rush all over again, as far as we're concerned. Our daytime ratings have gone into orbit. I don't know how long it's going to be before these Arabs blow Star-TV to kingdom come, but we're making a shitload of money while we're waiting to die.' He hesitated, and then he said, âSorry, Frank. Sorry. Me and my big mouth. How have
been? That was so sad about Danny. Tragic.
. You got our flowers, yes? How's Margot?'
âActually, Sloop, Margot and I have been taking a break from each other. Losing DannyÂ .Â .Â . well, that was a hell of a jolt. We both decided that we needed some individual space.'
âI'm real sorry to hear that, Frank. Kim and me, you knowÂ .Â .Â . our hearts go out to you.'
âThanks, Sloop. Listen, you probably know that
has been put on ice.'
âI heard, yes.
and every other show that's worth a damn.' Three years ago, John Berenger had been head of creative development at Fox, and his boisterous enthusiasm for
had helped to make it a hit from the very first episode. He was big and loud and opinionated, although he wasn't anywhere near as big and loud and opinionated as his boss, Charles Lasser.
Frank said, âThing is, Sloop, I could use some work right now. I don't need the money, but I'm hopeless at golf and I can't sit here all day with my thumb up my ass.'
âGo write the Great American Novel. Everybody else is.'
âI wish I could, but comedy is all I know.'
âI'm sorry, Frank. I have all the writers I need right now. And there's no telling when those Dar Tariki Tariqat lunatics are going to bomb
off the air, too. I mean, Charlie Lasser may be talking tough, but it's only going to take a couple of hundred pounds of TNT and everybody at Star-TV is going to be heading for the hills, leaving a long trail of diarrhoea.'
âWell, I realize that. But I have this great idea for a new comedy series. It's controversial, it's funny, but Islamically speaking, it's politically correct, so it won't upset any would-be terrorists.'
âWhat's the concept?'
âI'd rather not discuss it over the phone, if that's OK. Maybe we can meet.'
âOK. What's today? How about tomorrow morning, around eleven thirty? If we carry on talking long enough, we may even be able to drag it on through lunch. How do you like salmon with
âMmm-mmmh, I love it! What the hell is
rank was just about to leave his room when the phone rang.
âMr Bell? It's reception. There's a Mr Strange here to see you.'
He went downstairs and found Nevile waiting for him in the lobby, dressed in a loose black linen suit and very dark glasses. âFrank! I'm glad I caught you. Something really important has come up.'
âOh, yes? Concerning what?'
âListen, this is a hard thing to ask you, but I think we should try to talk to Danny again.'
âI thought we were leaving the Danny thing alone. Don't you remember? Madness and death.'
âYes, I know, but I received more automatic writing last night, and I'm sure that it's Richard Abbott trying to get through. The things he saysÂ .Â .Â . well, to my mind it's further evidence that this terror campaign could somehow be connected with child abuse.'
âHave you told the police?'
âNot yet, no. To be quite honest, I think that Lieutenant Chessman is losing faith in me. His superiors want to find Arabs, and if I can't confirm that it's Arabs, they're not really interested. They don't want to believe that this could be a home-grown protest, like the Murrah Building, only a hundred times worse. But there's a crisis coming, Frank. They're going to set off a whole lot more bombs, and if there's any way that we can stop them, we have to try it.'
âLet's have a drink.'
They sat on the shady veranda of the New World Bar on Sunset, opposite a huge billboard with a grinning 30-foot cutout of George Clooney on it. Frank ordered a beer but Nevile stuck to mineral water.
Frank raised his glass to George Clooney. âThat's some piece of sign-painting,' he said. âYou can even see the hairs up his nose.'
Nevile reached into his inside pocket and handed Frank a print-out. âI was trying to write a letter to my publishers yesterday afternoon but this is what came up. I just couldn't stop it, couldn't control it.'
DaY is cumin soon yore goin to Be sorre weer goin 2 give you baCk what you give out to Us. Alwiz hurtin us & mistretin us but now its yore turn. Dar Tariki TariQuat is goin to bring you tHe
lik you alwiz made our livs so
. You made us feel lik 0 so thTs what weer goin 2 do to you Make you feel like 0. WE WAS goin thru HELl an all you ever dID was say that lif was happe but lif was NEVER happe lif was hell.'
âYou see?' said Nevile. âI'm ninety-nine percent certain this is coming through from the spirit of Richard Abbott. He says that Dar Tariki Tariqat is going to bring us darkness and a life of hell. But the interesting thing is, he doesn't say a word about blasphemy. He says the reason that Dar Tariki Tariqat want to punish the entertainment industry is because it mocked them with images of happy families while
were being hurt and mistreated. “We was going through hell and all you ever did was say that life was happy.” Richard Abbott doesn't sound to me like a Palestinian suicide bomber, or anybody with any connections with Al Qaeda, or Hezbollah.'
Frank reread the print-out and handed it back. âOK, I agree, he doesn't. What
he sound like?'
âHe sounds to me like a victim of long-term child abuse.'
âHe sounds bitter, and crushed, and utterly hopeless â all of his humanity beaten out of him. He was happy to die so long as he could get his revenge on the society that destroyed his life. And he wasn't just looking to punish the people who actually beat him and abused him, but
of us, especially Hollywood. Everybody who tries to pretend that the world is sunny and bright while so many children are living in darkness.'
âDanny â or whoever it is that's pretending to be Danny â said he was abused, too.'
âThat's right. The trouble is, this isn't really enough evidence to take to the police. I don't want to send them off on the wrong track. All I have so far is the uncorroborated ravings of Richard Abbott and Danny's complaints that “Daddy hurt me.” I need badly to talk to Danny again, or whoever it is that's pretending to be Danny.'
Frank hesitated for a moment and then he said, âDanny paid me a visit, the night before last.'
âReally? Just like that? You weren't trying to make contact?'
âIt was just after three in the morning. He touched my cheek and woke me up. He looked exactly like Danny, just like he looked before, except that he was wearing some pajamas that I didn't recognize. He told me that his daddy had beaten him and done things to him. Sexual things, I guess. He said that his daddy cried and said he was sorry but still kept on doing it.'
Nevile sipped his water. âThis spirit is trying very, very hard to elicit your sympathy, isn't he?'
âYou say “he,” but that's the strange part about it. I took hold of his hand and it felt like a woman's hand.'
Frank nodded. âIt was definitely a woman's hand, with rings on.'
Nevile took off his dark glasses and his expression was very grave. âHe didn't ask you to do anything? For instance, he didn't ask you to find his daddy and punish him for what he'd done?'
âNo. He wouldn't even tell me who he was. I asked him, but he said that he wasn't allowed to tell me.'
âWellÂ .Â .Â . that's not as silly as it sounds. Even when people die, they often go on doing what they were told to do, when they were still alive. Most of the time they don't realize that they're beyond being punished.'
Frank finished his beer. âI'll tell you something, Nevile. The more I hear what it's like to be dead, the less I feel like dying.'
They drove to the Travel Town railroad museum in Griffith Park. This had always been one of Danny's favorite places, because he could climb on the old locomotives and pretend that he was an engineer, whooping to make the whistle noises. Frank had liked it, too, because he could sit in one of the passenger cars and work on his scripts, while ostensibly spending quality time with his son. This afternoon there were only four or five other visitors, only half visible in the dusty sunlight, but somehow the air seemed to be crowded with memories.
Nevile looked around and said, âThis is good. I can feel some very strong spiritual resonance here.'
Frank said, âI don't get it. Why did we have to come here? I know Danny loved this place, but this spirit isn't really Danny, is he? Or
Nevile smiled. âNo, she isn't. But it's easier for
to picture him here, and she relies on your remembered images of him to make him appear.' They sat down on a bench. âTake your time, Frank. Think about Danny, when you used to bring him here to play. Try to see him, as he was, standing on the footplate, waving to you.'
âWhere are you headed, Danny?' Frank asked, under his breath.
Salt Lake City, Chicago, and beyond. Whooo! Whooo!'
He heard a small boy laughing. He saw a child's legs, running between the railroad cars.
âI'll tell you something, Frank â this place is teeming with memories. I can feel them. I can hear them. All the people who rode on those trains, all the people who came to meet them when they arrived. And
, Frank. All of the boys like Danny who climb up on to those locomotives and dream about being a grown-up.'
Which is something that Danny will never be
, Frank thought.
They must have sat on that bench for nearly twenty minutes. The sun moved around so that it was shining through the windows of the nearest passenger car and Frank had to cup his hand over his eyes. He glanced at Nevile, but he was still sitting up straight, his hands clasped together, staring at nothing in particular.
âAnything?' Frank asked him.
âOh, he's here, all right,' said Nevile matter-of-factly. âHe's here, but he's hiding.'
âIsn't he going to talk to us?'
âGive him time.'
They waited another five minutes, and then Nevile said, âAll right,' and stood up.
âWhat is it?' Frank asked him.
âHe wants to talk to us. He's in that old locomotive over there, beside the tree.'
Frank felt his heart beat quicken. Nevile began to walk across the tracks and Frank followed him. Halfway toward the locomotive he stumbled on the ballast and nearly fell, and he felt almost as if somebody had deliberately tripped him up. Ever since he had met Nevile, he had become increasingly aware that the world around him was jostling with spirits, some of them mean, some of them kindly, but most of them bewildered and lost.
They reached the locomotive and stopped beside the footplate. A plaque said that it was a Central Pacific 4-4-0, dating from the 1860s. It had a huge bell-shaped smokestack and the steps up to its footplate were shiny and worn with age.
âAre you going to go up?' asked Nevile.
âDo you think he's really there?'
âHe said he was. I don't have any reason to doubt him.'
Frank took hold of the first rung, but then he hesitated. âCrazy, isn't it? I think I'm scared.'
âWhatever's up there, Frank â whether it's Danny or not â it's only a spirit. It can't hurt you, you know that.'
âYes,' said Frank, although he didn't feel much more confident. He climbed up on to the first step, and then the next, and then he was level with the footplate. He was still half dazzled by the sun, so he couldn't see Danny at first. But as his eyes became accustomed to the shadow he saw that Danny was standing in the far corner, his hair sticking up, his face pasty white. He was wearing a man's shirt with faded brown stripes, its sleeves so long that his hands were hidden. He was barefoot.
âDanny?' said Frank, a catch in his throat.
âIs he there?' asked Nevile.
Frank looked down at him and nodded.
âGo on up, Frank, I'll follow you.'
Cautiously, Frank swung himself into the cabin. Danny stared at him but didn't smile, almost as if he didn't know who Frank was. It could have been the fact that it was so shadowy, but it felt distinctly chilly up here.
âDanny?' Frank repeated, trying to sound reassuring. He was only a spirit, and he probably wasn't Danny at all, but he looked like Danny, and there was nothing Frank could do to stop himself from feeling protective toward him.
Nevile climbed up to join him. He looked at Danny intently, moving his head from side to side to examine him from several different angles. âFascinating,' he said. âYou'd think he was real, wouldn't you? Look at the shadows on his face. He's not there, but he has shadows on his face.'
I won't be Danny anymore,'
the boy whispered, scarcely moving his lips.
âWhat?' said Frank. âWhy not?'