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Authors: Peter Robinson

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3

They ate lunch at one of those Hollywood restaurants where six red-coated valets drag you out of your car and drive off with it if you so much as slow down out front. The first time it had happened, Sarah had seriously thought they were being carjacked, having read about such things in the papers, but Stuart had just laughed. He often laughed at her English ways. Stuart himself was Southern Californian all the way through.

Sarah recognized a couple of bit-part actors she had worked with on the series and said hello as she passed by. Most of the diners, however, were tanned, female shoppers taking a break from Rodeo Drive, the ultra-chic Melrose or La Brea.

Wherever she ate, Sarah tried to guess whether the waiters were aspiring actors or screenwriters. This one, who introduced himself as Mark, was tall, with dark good looks, a muscled body and sleek black hair tied in a ponytail. Definitely an aspiring actor. Rarely had Sarah known writers to look as good as that.

Stuart looked at the tables crammed close together in the small patio area. “Fuck,” he complained, “these things must multiply overnight. And I thought this place was supposed to be so crowded nobody comes here any more.”

Sarah raised her eyebrows.

“Yogi Berra,” Stuart explained.

“What?”

“Yogi Berra. You know, the baseball guy. Known for his redundancies and non sequiturs.”

Sarah shook her head. Mark scraped her chair back over the terracotta and beckoned her to sit. Sunlight filtered through the trellises, where a parkful of greenery climbed and entwined, occasionally offering a white or red blossom to the close observer. Mark explained the specials, then handed them menus, handwritten on laminated fuchsia cards about four feet by two.

“ ‘It ain't over till it's over,' ” Stuart tried. “ ‘It's déjà vu all over again.' ”

“Oh, yes. I've heard that before.” Sarah thought she should mollify him a little.

Stuart beamed. “See. Yogi Berra. He said that.”

Sarah laughed. Stuart Kleigman was about fifty years old and twenty pounds overweight, tanned, wore black-rimmed glasses and had sparse silver-gray hair swept back to reveal a pronounced widow's peak.

Dressed very conservatively for Hollywood, in an expensive lightweight gray suit and cheap maroon-and-ivory striped tie, he always stood out among the Hollywood crowd, with their silk shirts buttoned up to the top, their T-shirts, jeans and running shoes. Stuart's shoes were handmade in Italy, and the black leather was so highly polished that you could see your face in them. He reminded Sarah of a bank manager from one of those fifties American comedies that ran day and night in syndication: I Love Lucy or The Beverly Hillbillies.

Stuart was head of casting at the studio, but he had also become her friend, and he meant more to her than anyone else in the country; he had believed in her, given her a chance at fame and fortune, without demanding anything in return. But it was more than that; he had given her back her self-respect and her confidence. Well, some of it, anyway.

She turned back to the menu. California cuisine. It never failed to amaze her. Back in Yorkshire, where she had been born and raised, the standard fare was fish and chips—fries, as they were called here—with a side order of mushy peas and maybe, for the truly adventurous, a dollop of curry sauce on the chips. A salad usually consisted of one limp, translucent lettuce leaf with a thin slice of greenish yellow tomato squatting on top of it, and there was generally a bottle of salad cream nearby, too, if you really wanted it.

Now, though, here she was in Hollywood trying to decide between a Swiss chard and leek frittata or Belgian endive and dandelion greens with Cabernet vinaigrette. Salad dressings alone must be a growth industry in California, she thought. If only her mother could see her now. Or her father. She could just picture him scanning the menu with a scowl on his face and finally commenting, “There's nowt edible here,” most likely within the hearing of the chef.

Finally, she decided on the endive and dandelion with a glass of Evian water. Stuart went for rosemary chicken strips and fettucini with sun-dried tomato and garlic cream, but then he always did overeat. That was why he was twenty pounds overweight.

“Going to Jack's birthday party tonight?” Stuart asked after Mark had disappeared with their order.

Sarah sighed. “Wouldn't miss it for the world.”

“That's my girl. I'll pick you up at eight. So where's this letter you were telling me about on the way here?”

Sarah opened her purse, took out the letter and handed it to him. “It's probably nothing, really,” she said. “I just . . .”

Stuart pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose and frowned as he read.

“Hmm,” he said, putting it back in the envelope. “I've seen worse. I'd say the real mystery is why you haven't had anything like this before now.”

“What do you mean?”

Stuart waved the envelope. “This kind of thing. It's all over the place in this business. Occupational hazard. Everybody gets them. Fuck's sake, Sarah, you're a beautiful woman. You're in the public eye. Hardly surprising some fucking wacko has decided he's in love with you, excuse my French.”

“But what should I do?” Sarah asked. “Should I go to the police?”

“I can't see that they could do very much.”

“It's the third,” Sarah admitted.

Stuart raised his eyebrows. “Even so. I don't think it's anything to worry about. Believe me, I've seen dozens of these things, much worse than this. These guys are usually so sick all they can do is write letters. If he ever met you face to face he'd probably crap his pants if he didn't come in his shorts first.”

“Stuart, you're disgusting.”

“I know. But you still love me, don't you, sweetheart?”

“I've heard of cases where they turn violent,” Sarah said. “Rebecca Shaeffer. Didn't she get shot by someone who wrote letters to her? And what about that man who shot Reagan to impress Jodie Foster?”

“Hey, look, kid, we're talking about serious wackos there. This guy, he's just . . . You've only got to read the letter.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he's even fairly literate, for a start. Most of the guys who write these things don't know how to spell or put a sentence together. What's with this “Little Star” business, anyway? Someone been listening to Little Anthony and the Imperials?”

Sarah shrugged. “I don't know.” But even as she spoke, a faint, distant bell rang deep in the darkest part of her memory, sounding a warning.

“Sure it doesn't mean anything to you?”

“No. I don't think so.”

“And he calls you Sally, too.”

“Yes. But he could have got that from the TV Guide interview. Or maybe Entertainment Tonight.”

“I guess so. That was a great feature on ET, by the way. Should up your profile a few notches.”

They kept quiet as Mark delivered their food. It looked very pretty—nicely color-coordinated—and it tasted good, too.

“I just don't want you to worry, sweetheart, that's all,” said Stuart.

“It is a little scary,” Sarah admitted. “I've had fan letters before, back home, and some of them were a bit racy, maybe, but . . . I mean, he says he knows me.”

“In his dreams.”

“I think someone's been watching me through binoculars, too. I've seen them glint in the sun.”

“You don't know that for sure. Same way you can't really believe him when he says he knows you from somewhere. Sarah, these guys live in a fantasy world. They watch you on television once and think they've known you forever. They read about you in a fan magazine, find out your favorite color, foods and zodiac sign and they think they know your most intimate secrets.”

Sarah shrugged. “I know. But even so . . .”

“Look, when are you going back home?”

“Thursday.”

“How's your father doing, by the way?”

Sarah stirred her food with her fork and shook her head. “Not so well.”

“I'm sorry to hear that. But listen to my point. In a couple of days you'll be gone, miles away in England. Right?”

Sarah nodded.

“How long?”

“Nearly a fortnight.”

“A “fortnight”?”

Sarah smiled. “Two weeks.” She was getting used to having to explain herself to Americans.

“Okay. So by the time you get back, your Romeo will have probably found someone new to pester.”

“You think so?”

“I guarantee it. Look, if you want, I can arrange with the post office to have your mail sent through me or the studio, get it vetted. A lot of people do that.”

“Maybe that's a good idea,” Sarah said.

“Consider it done.”

Mark appeared again out of nowhere and asked if their meals were all right. Given the attention they were getting, Sarah suspected he had recognized Stuart as a casting director. They told him things were fine and he faded back into the greenery. Sarah hadn't been aware of the conversations around her, but now she heard low voices, the occasional burst of laughter, drinks rattling on a tray.

Stuart spread his hands. “You're welcome to come stay with Karen and me till you leave, if you want.”

“No. Thanks, Stuart, but I'll be okay.”

Stuart picked up the letter. “Can I keep this? There's a guy I'd like to show it to, just to get his opinion. Like I said, it's nothing, but maybe he can put you a bit more at ease.”

“A policeman?”

“Uh-huh. He can at least have a look at the letter, reassure you there's nothing to worry about. It's his job. He deals with shit like this all the time. He's an expert.”

“Okay,” said Sarah.

Mark came back and asked them about dessert. Sarah only wanted a decaf cappuccino, but Stuart went for the pink gingered pear compote with cassis, which was duly delivered.

“Now,” he said when Mark had vanished again. “Are you sure it's a good idea to do this Nora in this . . . what is it?”

“A Doll's House. Ibsen.”

“Right. Are you sure it's a good idea to do this thing on Broadway?”

“I should be so lucky. Jane Fonda played her in a movie.”

“That's right,” Stuart said. “That's right, she did. Now I recall.” He paused, ate a spoonful of compote, then fixed her with a serious gaze and said, “But, Sarah, sweetheart, think about it. Do you really want to end up making exercise videos and marrying a millionaire tycoon?”

“Well, I suppose there are worse things in life,” she said, laughing. But her laughter had a brittle, nervous edge.

About the Author

One of the world's most popular and acclaimed writers, PETER ROBINSON grew up in the United Kingdom, and now divides his time between Toronto and England. The bestselling, award-winning author of the Inspector Banks series, he has also written two short-story collections and three standalone novels, which combined have sold more than ten million copies around the world. Among his many honors and prizes are the Edgar Award, the CWA (UK) Dagger in the Library Award, and Sweden's Martin Beck Award. 

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Credits

Cover photograph © Sandra Cunningham / Arcangel Images

 

Copyright

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblence to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

I
NNOCENCE
. Copyright © 2015 by Peter Robinson. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransfereable, right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without the express written permisison of HarperCollins e-books.

F
IRST EDITION

This story originally appeared in the collection
Not Safe After Dark
, published by Crippen & Landru in 1998.

EPub Edition Feburary 2016 ISBN 9780062413826

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