âWell, OK, they spend most of their days playing bridge, but they're not physically dead yet, if that's what you mean.'
They said almost nothing for the rest of their lunch, but looked at each other as they ate, guardedly. Now and then Astrid gave him a small, secretive smile, as if she knew something that he didn't. Frank didn't know what to make of her. She seemed interested in him but he couldn't really work out why.
Most of the people that Frank knew left the Garden early. For them, it was back-to-the-office or back-to-the-studio time. One or two of them came over and shook his hand and gave him their condolences. Yvette Kane gave Frank a kiss on both cheeks and there were genuine tears in her eyes. âI'm so sorry, Frank. It was such a shock.'
âHow's Margot taking it?'
âNot very well, I'm afraid.'
âGive her my love, won't you?' said Yvette. She was just about to leave when she stopped and looked at Astrid again. âI'm sorry â do I know you?'
Astrid put on her sunglasses and turned around. âI don't think so.'
âI'm sure we've met before. Didn't I see you at Hugo Mason's birthday party?'
Frank said, âAstrid and I didn't meet till Wednesday. She was there when the bomb went off.'
âAstrid,' Yvette repeated. âIt's so weird, could have sworn that I've met you before.'
âNo,' said Astrid emphatically, and turned her back. Yvette looked at Frank and gave him a mystified shrug.
Matt Fielding came over next and clasped Frank's hand between both of his, like a meaty sandwich, but all the same he couldn't keep his eyes away from Astrid's cleavage. âWhat can I say?' he kept saying. âWhat can I say?'
âAppreciate it, Matt,' said Frank. âReally appreciate it.'
âThis isÂ .Â .Â .?' asked Matt, nodding at Astrid.
âOh, I'm sorry. Astrid, this is Matt Fielding. Matt, this is Astrid.'
Matt abandoned Frank's hand and took hold of Astrid's, and gave her knuckles a rubbery kiss. âI'm charmed.'
With her other hand, Astrid pointed to her hairline.
âExcuse me?' Matt frowned at her.
She jabbed at her hairline even more emphatically.
âSorry, I don't know whatÂ .Â .Â .?'
âHairpiece. Your hairpiece. It's slipping a little to the left.'
âMy what is what?' He stared at her as if she had blasphemed in seven languages.
After Matt had left, Frank smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. âDo you have any idea who that
âI don't care who it is. He was trying to see all the way down to my navel.'
âMatt Fielding is the head of development at Universal. If there's one word that nobody in the greater Los Angeles area ever says to Matt Fielding, it's “hairpiece.”'
âI think I was very polite. I could have said “rug.”'
When they left the restaurant, he looked up and down Sunset and said, âWhere did you leave your car?'
âI didn't. A friend of mine gave me a ride.'
âIn that case I'd better drive you home.'
She thought about that for a while, cupping her hand over the crown of her hat to keep it from blowing away in the breeze. Then she said, âAll right. Do you know Venice at all? Palms Boulevard, off Lincoln.'
Frank checked his watch. Ten after two. He took out his cellphone and called Margot.
âMargot? Gerald was caught up in a partners' meeting so I'm running maybe thirty minutes late. I'll be back around four.'
âAll right,' she said. Her voice had no expression at all.
âMargotÂ .Â .Â .' There were so many things he wanted to say to her. That he was sorry. That Nevile Strange could show her that Danny forgave him. That he wished it were still Tuesday morning, and that he and Danny were still stuck in traffic on the Hollywood Freeway. Instead he ended the call.
âI'm not finding this easy,' he told Astrid as they drove westward on Santa Monica.
âOf course it isn't easy. You've lost your son.'
âNo, I don't mean Margot. I mean you and me.'
âIs there any special reason it has to be easy?'
âI guess not. But I'm finding it very hard to get to know you. I'm beginning to ask myself why you wanted to meet me at all.'
âI wanted to meet you because we both went through that experience together, that bomb.'
âAnd why else?'
âI wanted to meet you becauseÂ .Â .Â . well, we're kind of kindred spirits.'
âKindred spirits, huh?'
She said nothing, but leaned her head back against the head rest and half closed her eyes, as if she were focusing on something in the very far distance.
He turned off Lincoln Boulevard into Palms, and she directed him to draw up in front of a peeling pink apartment building with dark green wooden shutters and a red-tiled veranda. âThis is it,' she said. âDo you want to come up for a drink?'
He checked his watch again. âOK. So long as I'm out of here by three thirty.' He locked his car and followed her up the steps and wondered why he didn't feel guilty. He felt, instead, an unexpected sense of freedom, as if a load had been taken off his mind.
Astrid unlocked the front door and they stepped into a Mexican-tiled hallway with an oak side table that was scattered with junk mail, and a large gilt mirror with business cards tucked into the frame. She led him up the stairs to the second floor and opened the door on the left-hand side â apartment number three. It was sunny and bright, with a shiny wood floor and plain calico couches with Navajo rugs draped over them. On the wall hung a lithograph of a naked young man, completely green, with the most supercilious look on his face that Frank had ever seen.
âYou live here alone?' Frank asked her.
He peeked into one of the bedrooms. There was a queen-sized bed with a carved oak bedhead, loosely strewn with a red and yellow throw. Astrid walked through to the second bedroom, where the bed was immaculately tidy with a brown and white cover and three white pillows on it.
âWho do you share with?'
âCarla, she's a flight attendant. She's in Europe this weekend. Frankfurt, Rome, Madrid. Do you want a cup of coffee? Or another glass of wine?'
She was standing in the middle of the room and he walked up behind her and laced his arms around her waist. Her perfume, and the warmth of her shoulder, and the criss-cross elasticized smocking of her dress engulfed his senses.
lose?' he asked her. âAre you ever going to tell me?'
She twisted around and kissed him directly on the lips. âI might. But not yet.'
âYou said it was somebody closer than a child. I'mÂ .Â .Â . intrigued. I didn't know anybody who was closer to me than Danny, except for Margot. Who could be closer?'
âYou can't think?'
âNo,' he said. She kissed him again, and touched his cheek with her fingertips, in the same way that she had touched him when she first met him, as if she wanted to make sure that he was real.
anny's hair was shiny with hair tonic and combed with a center parting, like a child movie star from the 1940s. His cheeks were florid and his eyebrows were unnaturally dark brown. He wore a white shirt and a bow tie, and his hands were demurely clasped in front of his well-pressed black shorts.
John Lester Junior was a small man with rimless glasses and small polished shoes and a dyed chestnut pompadour. He stood next to the non-denominational stained-glass window so that one side of his face was yellow and the other green.
âI'm sure you'll want some moments alone,' he said.
Frank nodded, and John Lester Junior stepped neatly backward out of the chapel of rest, closing the double doors behind him without a sound. He'd make a good butler, thought Frank.
Margot stayed where she was, about eight feet away from the casket, her hands hanging by her sides, as if all the strength had drained out of them.
Frank cleared his throat. âHe doesn't look too much like Danny, does he?' Margot didn't answer. Frank stepped closer to the casket and looked down at the small, utterly still figure that used to be their son. After a while he said, âLook, he has scratches on his knees.'
What he actually meant was,
he isn't a waxwork after all; he's the real Danny
. For some reason, he had to be sure.
After a long, long silence, Margot approached the casket, too. She reached out and touched Danny's lips with her fingertips. Then she bent forward and kissed him. Her tears dropped on to his sugar-pink cheeks, so that it looked as if he had been crying, too.
As they drove home, Frank said, âI have to ask you something. If you don't want to do it, you only have to say so. I know that it was all my fault that Danny died, but I think that he forgives me, and I want you to hear it directly from him.'
Margot very slowly turned her head and stared at him. âExcuse me? What are you talking about, “directly from him”?'
âThis morning I went to The Cedars before I met George. Lieutenant Chessman introduced me to thisÂ .Â .Â . psychic detective. He's supposed to be famous. He helps the police to look for children who go missing. He has thisÂ .Â .Â . talent, I guess you'd call it. He can see things happening after they've happened, even when there were no witnesses, and he can sense things that are going to happen, before they actually do.'
âWhat has this to do with Danny forgiving you?'
Frank took a right turn toward their house. âThis psychic, he can contact the dead.'
âHe can communicate with people who haveÂ .Â .Â . what do they call it?Â .Â .Â .
. He seems pretty sure that he can communicate with Danny.'
âAnd that's what you want us to do? Communicate with Danny, disturb him even when he's dead, so that you can feel better about killing him?'
Frank swung into the driveway and stopped the car an inch short of the garage doors. âYes,' he said. âThat's exactly what I want us to do.'
Frank spent the evening in his study, trying to finish the next episode of
. Fourteen-year-old Dusty and twelve-year-old Henry were lying in bunk beds in their grandpa's house, where their parents had been forced to move after their own house had been blown away by a tornado.
HENRY: You know what Randy Bennett said today about Ellie-Jane Kuhne?
DUSTY: What, that she'll let you take a look at her hooters?
HENRY (sniffing loudly): That's right. (beat) How much does she charge?
DUSTY: Fifty cents, that's what I heard.
HENRY (sorting through a handful of sticky pennies): I have twenty-six cents. Do you think she'll let me take a look at just one?
DUSTY: What's the point of looking at a single hooter?
HENRY (after a moment's thought): I don't know. It's better than no hooter at all.
DUSTY (kind of admits that Henry has a point): Well, I have eleven cents. Maybe if we club together she'll let us take a look at a hooter and a half.
Frank sat back and stared at the screen. He couldn't decide if any of this was remotely funny or not. He had intended to show it to Mo and Liz at Wednesday morning's script meeting, but Wednesday morning seemed so long ago that maybe people's sense of humor had changed. Maybe they would think this was tragedy now, instead of comedy. He was still staring at it when Margot came in.
âLynn called me.'
âI told her that we went to see Danny today at the funeral home, but of course Lynn can't even do that. Kathy was standing right next to the van when it blew up and there was almost nothing left of her.
Frank waited for what she was going to say next.
âThe thing isÂ .Â .Â . I mentioned this psychic detective of yours, and that you'd asked me if we could arrange a sÃ©anceÂ .Â .Â .' Another pause. âLynn said that if we
Â .Â .Â .'
âIf we did, she would very, very much like to come. She badly needs to talk to Kathy. She doesn't even have a body to bury.'
Frank said nothing for a moment, but then he leaned forward and pressed the delete button on his keyboard. âOK. I'll arrange it.'
Police Commissioner Marvin Campbell appeared on the news at six o'clock that evening.
âAbout an hour ago we received a further coded telephone call from Dar Tariki Tariqat â the terrorist group who claim to be responsible for Wednesday's bombing at The Cedars elementary school in Hollywood.
âThey warned us that they are planning further explosions aimed at the motion picture and television industries. Specifically, they state that “the corruption of religious and political thought throughout the world by the godless moguls of American entertainment amounts to cultural imperialism of the most oppressive nature. We are committed to smashing them and all their Satanic works.”'
Commissioner Campbell was asked what he took this threat to mean.
âI think the meaning is pretty clear. These fanatics believe that American movies and television are an evil influence in countries where women have to cover their faces and risk being stoned to death for adultery. They think that
Sex and the City
is an insult to Allah and that freedom of expression is a blasphemy.'
How serious did he estimate the threat to be?
âOne hundred and ten percent serious. Anybody who has no qualms about murdering innocent children will certainly be capable of committing atrocities that are similar or even worse.'