he appeared from the bedroom just before seven
It was obvious from her face that she hadn't slept. Frank was sitting at the breakfast counter with a large cup of black coffee. He had made some toast but he had only taken one bite out of it.
âCoffee?' he asked her.
She shook her head. She went to the fridge and took out a carton of cranberry juice.
âThere's been some news about the bombing,' he told her. âSome Arab terrorist group say that it was them.'
She poured out her juice and drank half of it. Still she didn't speak.
âThere, look,' he said, nodding toward the caption underneath CNN News. âDar Tariki Tariqat, whoever they are. Nobody's heard of them before, but I guess they're connected to Al Qaeda.'
Margot said, âI saw what you did to my painting.'
She waited, and waited, but when he continued sipping his coffee and watching the news, she banged her glass of cranberry juice down on the counter in front of him.
âIs that it? “Yes”? Is that all you have to say?'
Frank turned to her and put down his coffee cup. He was trying to be calm but his heart was beating unnaturally fast. âNo, Margot. I could say a whole lot more, but right now I don't think you'd understand. I don't think you'd
Margot let out a disbelieving â
âWhat would you like me to do? Apologize?'
âNo I damn well wouldn't. You could say a million times and it still couldn't make up for what you've done. You've killed my only son, Frank. Danny's dead and it was you who allowed him to die.'
â“I know”?' she screamed at him. â“I
”? You've killed him, and now you've made a mockery out of his death by defacing my work with some grotesqueÂ .Â .Â .' She had to take another breath to control her fury. âDo you really hate me that much, Frank? Come on, tell me! My God, I can't believe how much you must hate me!'
Frank closed his eyes for a moment. âMargot, I don't hate you, I love you, and if I could bring Danny back to life â even if it meant that I had to die instead of him â I would do it, without a second's hesitation.'
âYou don't love anybody, Frank.'
âWell, whatever you say, sweetheart. But nothing that either of us says or does can change what's happened. If Danny had arrived at school on time he would have been killed instantly like the rest of the kids. If he had arrived two minutes later he wouldn't have been hurt at all. But he arrived when he did, and by bad fortune he was hit by a nail. If you had been with him, instead of me, you probably wouldn't have realized that he was hurt so bad, either. Or maybe you would. But ifs don't count for anything.'
Margot said nothing for a long time, her nostrils flared, breathing like a runner at the end of a race. Eventually, however, she flapped her right hand toward the living room. âSo why did you deface my painting?'
âI don't think I defaced it, Margot. I think I made it mean something, which it never did before. I think I gave it some humanity.'
He drove to work. When he walked into the office suite at Fox, his secretary, Daphne, stared at him with her mouth open.
âMr Bell! I didn't expect to see you today! I'm so sorry about Danny! It was such a terrible thing to happen.'
Mo Cohen came out of the conference room wearing a bright-blue shirt with palm trees on it and smoking a cigar. He was balding and big-bellied, with black curly hair like a clown.
âFrank, for Christ's sake.' He came up and hugged him so hard that Frank could hardly breathe. When he let him go, he had tears in his eyes. âWhat can I say? Poor little Danny. I can't even believe it's true.'
âNo, well, neither can I.'
âWhat the hell are you doing at work? You should be home, taking care of Margot.'
âI needed to get away for a while, that's all.'
Mo put his arm around Frank's shoulders and squeezed him. Frank winced. âYou OK?' Mo asked him.
âBruises. Nothing serious.'
âCome inside, take the weight off. You want a cup of coffee? Daphne, my angel, make this man a cup of coffee.'
The conference room was where they worked on the scripts of
If Pigs Could Sing
. It was a large, cream-painted room with three red leather couches and a long table with three PCs on it, as well as heaps of paper and scripts and felt-tip pens, an Emmy with a pink beret hanging on it, and a plaster statuette of three singing pigs. On the walls hung framed TV awards from all over the world, as well as photographs of Frank and Mo and their partner, Lizzie Fries, and all of their guest stars, like Joan Rivers and Will Smith and Rush Limbaugh.
Cream loose-weave drapes were drawn across the windows to hide the view of the parking lot. When they were writing, anything could prove a distraction â even watching Gene Wilder trying to park his BMW. High up on the left-hand wall there was a basketball hoop, and on the floor underneath it lay heaps of crumpled-up pieces of paper. If they couldn't decide if a gag was funny or not, they tossed it up at the hoop, and if they missed, it wasn't funny.
Mo said, âI would have called you yesterday, as soon as I heard, butÂ .Â .Â . you knowÂ .Â .Â . Lizzie thought you probably needed some space.'
âWell, she was right. I was still in shock yesterday. I'm still in shock today.'
âIt's like a nightmare, you know?' Mo said. âA total fucking nightmare. How can people deliberately kill kids like that?'
âI don't know, Mo. I haven't even gotten round to thinking about what they did it for. It was absolutely the most terrible thing I've ever seen.'
âYou shouldn't have come into the office. For Christ's sake, Frank, you're going to need a long, long time to deal with this.'
âNo, I'd rather be here. Margot's taken it pretty badly, to tell you the truth. SheÂ .Â .Â . ahÂ .Â .Â . she thinks that I was responsible for Danny dying, and in a way I was.'
Mo sat down next to him and took his cigar out of his mouth. âHow could you be responsible? It was a fucking bomb, for Christ's sake.'
Frank told him. Mo sat and listened to him and then he took hold of his hand, twisting his wedding band around and around in the way that women do. âIt wasn't your fault, Frank. How were you to know? It could have happened to anybody.'
âMaybe. But it didn't happen to anybody. It happened to Danny, and it happened to me.'
Commissioner Marvin Campbell appeared on the wide-screen television in the far corner of the room. Frank picked up the remote control and turned up the sound.
âÂ .Â .Â . with a coded password. This came from a group calling themselves Dar Tariki Tariqat, which in Arabic means “in the darkness, the path.” They gave us no reason for the bombing and made no demands of any kind. We are working on the possibility that they may be associated with Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, but as yet we have found no evidence one way or the other.'
Then it was back to the anchorwoman, Barbra Cole. âEight-year-old Heidi Martinez, the daughter of
star James Martinez and folk singer Kelly Gooding, died early this morning from injuries she received in the blast. This brings the total of student fatalities to twenty-one, while five faculty members were killed, including principal Ann Redmond.
âFBI explosives experts calculate that the bomb was made out of approximately two hundred and fifty pounds of TNT, a favorite with terrorist groups because it is so easily obtainable and not easily traced.
âExamination of the van in which the device was driven into the grounds of The Cedars school has shown that the driver was male and that he was carrying a female passenger. In the words of forensic specialists, however, both driver and passenger were “vaporized” by the blast and identification is likely to prove extremely difficult.
âPolice Commissioner Marvin Campbell received a telephone call shortly after five
from a man who claimed to represent a group called Dar Tariki Tariqat. He said that Dar Tariki Tariqat were responsible for the bombing but gave no further details about their aims, their origins or their affiliations â if any.
âPolice are urgently seeking more witnesses to the bombing, and they want to speak to anybody who might have seen a white Ford E-series panel van parked in any unusual locations during the past few days, or anybody who might have had a white Ford panel van recently stolen. Also any dealers who might have sold such a vehicle.'
Lieutenant Chessman appeared on the screen, looking red-faced and hot. âBasically we need to hear from anybody in the demolition or quarrying businesses who has a large quantity of TNT unaccounted for. Detonators, too. Apart from that, we'd like to talk to any auto wreckers who might have sold two engine blocks â one from a four-point-eight-liter Northstar engine and one from a one-point-six-liter Honda V-Tec engine. These blocks were carried inside the van on either side of the bomb and when they were blown apart they caused appalling VO injuryÂ .Â .Â .' He hesitated, as if somebody were talking to him, and then he said, âOh, sorry, VO â that's vital organ.'
Frank pressed the mute button. Mo said, âTerrible, appalling. They must be fucking animals, these people. Worse than animals. Did you ever hear of them? Kon-Tiki Paraquat or whatever?
never heard of them.'
Frank shook his head. âI just hope they find them, that's all. And find them guilty. And gas them.'
Mo gave him a quick, disturbed look. He had never heard Frank talk like that before. Daphne came in with a cup of coffee. She was a tall black girl with beaded cornrows and big yellow-tinted glasses and lips that were, in Mo's words, âlike two red satin cushions just begging to be sat on.' Frank had not employed her just because she was efficient and incredibly good-natured, considering how cantankerous they could all be when a deadline was pressing and they couldn't think of anything remotely funny. Today, however, she couldn't stop weeping.
âI keep seeing little Danny. I don't know how you can bear it.'
âWell,' said Frank, âI don't think I can.'
âOh God,' she said. âI hope he's at peace.'
âI think so, Daphne. Thanks.'
âWhat are you going to do now?' Mo asked him, after Daphne had left the room. âYou'll have to go home sooner or later.'
âI don't know. I'm not sure that our marriage is going to be able to survive a thing like this.'
âOf course it will. Margot's in shock, that's all, just like you are. She needs somebody to blame for what happened and you're that somebody. You wait till the cops nab these bastards, then she'll see that it wasn't your fault.'
Frank sat staring at the balls of crumpled-up paper all over the floor. He had been thinking about Danny so much that he felt as if somebody had been repeatedly hitting him on the head with a heavy book. He needed to sleep but he knew that he couldn't. He needed to talk to Margot, too, to try to atone for what he had done, but he knew he couldn't do that, either.
âWhat about next week's show?' he asked Mo. âDo you think you and Lizzie can wrap it up on your own?'
âFor Christ's sake, don't worry about the show, Frank. They'll probably cancel it in any case.'
âThey shouldn't. They shouldn't cancel it. We can't let people like that destroy everything we've worked for. That's just what they want.'
âFrank, it's not just
that's going to be affected here. What about
The Fairchild Family
May To September
The Kings of Orange County
? What about Ollie Peller? He's halfway through scoring that new John Badham picture. It's going to be total fucking paralysis. Anybody who lost a kid is not going to be able to do any serious work, are they? And everybody else is going to be far too jumpy.'
Frank slowly shook his head. âThey sure know how to pick their targets, don't they? American capitalism on September 11, American popular culture on September 22.'
Mo said, âMy advice to you is go home. You have to face up to this situation with Margot.
does, both. I'm talking to you as a brother.'
âOK,' said Frank. He looked around the conference room and gave something that was nearly a smile. âI can't think of any good gags, anyhow.'
e didn't go home. He was too sick at heart and he knew that Margot wasn't yet ready to talk to him. He called her from his cellphone but she didn't pick up. Either she didn't want to hear from him, or she was out seeing her friend Ruth in Coldwater Canyon.
The smog had cleared and it was a warm, clear morning. He had the impression that there were more police cars around than usual, and he saw two police helicopters in the time it took him to drive from The Avenue of the Stars to the San Diego Freeway. He didn't switch on his car radio, though. There was only one topic of conversation on every waveband.
He reached the ocean. The water was glittering like smashed mirrors, and gulls were wheeling and screaming over the beach. He parked his car and walked along the promenade toward the municipal pier.
An old man approached him. He was wearing a long-billed baseball cap and a saggy gray T-shirt and saggy orange shorts. The veins in his legs looked like a street map of Laurel Canyon, a mass of wriggly blue roads. One of his eyes was totally white.
âLost?' He grinned, showing four mahogany-colored teeth.