PART I. The gold medalist
he’s beautiful. Let me just say that at the outset. A person could pretend they didn’t notice, but that person would probably be lying. I’ve lied before. I’ve lied notably, some might even say
But this is the truth: she’s a classic willowy, green-eyed beauty. And she carries it in a way that might surprise if you’ve based your impression on the ads and the television spots. In person, there is nothing endorsement, nothing podium about her. No flashing of the winning smile. No casual glancing around for the nearest camera. In person, it’s all about health and natural athleticism, straw-blond hair and a perfect dusting of freckles over tanned cheekbones. I’ve heard her described as having “Midwestern” looks, but that doesn’t quite get to the essence of it either. The essence is that she seems beyond regions and sources. As if she came from everywhere and so belonged to everyone. As if, and this is related, she came from nowhere and belonged to no one.
This is the first of three excerpts from Thom Pegg’s book,
Black Out, Blue Light
, about his experience during the Meme Media Hostage Crisis, to be published this fall. Pegg worked for six years as a Senior Features Editor at
, an entertainment periodical. He lives in Los Angeles.
I know how this sounds coming from a person like me, who has worked for years too long inside the machinery of fame, leaned in close against the grind and squelch of it.
The fan is always the mark. Celebrity is a con.
Who wrote that, years ago, as if it were a great insight? Me, of course. I wrote that years ago as if it were a great insight. Still, when I first saw her, I was hit by the whole suite of symptoms: the adrenal spike, the sense of brightening, of possibilities opening wide. And like the strike of a crystal bell in my inner ear, like a breath whispering through my body at the cellular level, I heard her name: Eve Latour.
Of course, everybody up in the Heights that morning seemed to be slightly lost. I’d been wandering the city myself since first light, a dread chill in the air, flinty breeze off the river, the skies above me all smoky and heaving. The pale October sun leaked only briefly through bruised and purple clouds before slouching away. I stood just a few blocks from the plaza, which had been the epicenter of the troubles, and evidence was still everywhere. Broken glass glittering in the street. Sirens scoring the air. Smoke rising. I saw the remains of a car that rioters had burned earlier, the interior gutted and blackened, soaked by fire hoses and steaming in the watery light. Police and troops wandering around. The recent events continuing to dominate every news broadcast. The Meme Media Hostage Crisis, as we were all calling it. On the hour and the half hour, they laid it out again and again, from inception to climax, and made no further sense of anything. You could see it in the anchors’ faces. Incomprehension in the furrows between plucked eyebrows even as they tried to explain how events unfolded. The Meme studio theater stormed in ghostly silence. A strange pulse of energy felt on the skin by everyone in a six-block radius. And then the strange agitations of a stricken crowd: a vigil turned riot in the predawn blue.
We stumbled. We reeled. We looked into each other’s faces for clues.
ve Latour stood holding a newspaper in one hand. A fingernail of her other hand traced across her cheek as she read. Mill-town sky, the clouds sagging low behind her. She stood against this backdrop, tall and lean, with an easy grace and natural strength. While reflected in the broken front window of a dog grooming salon, I saw myself: addled, disarranged. My expression confused, smudged with lack of sleep. I looked as creased and untucked as my clothes. As lost as the one shirt collar point popping free of my jacket.
Police cars and fire trucks crisscrossed the hillside. Helicopters hovered watchfully, dipping down out of sight behind rooflines, or pivoting in place and angling off to other quadrants of the city. I could hear the city’s landmark waterfall down at the river, the never-ending white keen of it. Eve stood calmly in the midst of this, reading, thinking.
I’d walked from the north side, from my hotel downtown across the river where the streets were almost untouched by what had happened here. I’d crossed one of the bridges and made my way through the inner-city area of Stofton, then on up into the gentrified Slopes. I knew these neighborhoods, having been born and raised here, long ago. Yet as I covered the ground, I’d slowly become aware of my own uncertainty about where I was exactly or where I was going as I pushed on, going block by block, turning down a street or cutting through a park. And everywhere I saw people who looked to be in a similar condition, heads turning, faces slack, drifting through the strange familiar.
There were no birds anywhere. No pigeons, crows, no geese or grebes. When I crossed the boulevard that marked the boundary of the Heights, a man stopped his car and rolled down the window to tell me that hundreds of people had been arrested and were being held in temporary detention centers
down by the east side rail yards. I judged from his face—from his suit jacket, his car, his wristwatch with many dials—that he wasn’t the sort of person who believed rumors easily, but that something had changed. Belief was now very close. Belief that some hidden badness had been flushed into the open and exposed. A hidden badness in us. A plague of ourselves upon ourselves.
I climbed up the streets and into the Heights. Traffic clotted and broke out of its patterns. The main routes up into the plaza were cordoned off, yellow tape shimmering in the light and wind. Armored cars were parked next to the fountains, between the park benches, in front of cafés. Troops wore gray-mottled city camo fatigues with black knee pads and throat mikes, helmet-mounted cameras. I took a random turn into a narrow avenue lined with high-end clothiers and boutique law firms, a cosmetic surgeon. Broken glass in the street. The air smelled of rubber, burnt sugar, nylon. Eve Latour didn’t belong in the scene at all, I thought. She lived in my memory as a heroic figure on alpine landscapes with crisp air and wide sight lines. Yet as I stood staring, I felt that our arrival there had somehow been planned: place and persons, trembling moment.
he sensed me standing there. People who spend their lives in the public eye develop a kind of radar. They feel the eyes, the longing, the volatile desire. Some love it, thrive on it. Others are smartly wary. Eve Latour was wary, I think, but also kind. So she didn’t ignore me or pretend to be distracted with something else. She looked up instead and inventoried me in a single glance. The clothes. That shirt collar point sticking up. Shoes, hands, face. History and disappointments. The fear and the fatigue.
Then she closed the distance. She stepped towards me and extended her hand.
Strange thing, that. They don’t normally touch you, in my experience. I mean the really big stars. The name brands. The
people of iconic wealth and wellness. The people who could surely envy only God. It’s less a germ issue than it is a matter of observing the sacred separation between you and them. But Eve was going to surprise me in various ways, and the handshake was only the first instance. She took my hand, applied the faintest pressure. The nod, the rounded eyebrows to signal that we both understood at least one part of what the other was feeling. And then we had the same conversation that thousands of strangers were having that morning. We worked our way back in time together to where we’d been when the crisis began.
I told her that I’d been on the West Coast, where I lived. That I’d been on a date, at dinner. I told her about the unexpected phone call, the shock, the terrible dawning, the rush to the airport to fly here. But past that point, past liftoff—I remembered a cream leather cabin—my memory frayed and sputtered. My forehead twitching, my cheeks flushing with effort as the details jammed.
She said: Journalist. You’re a journalist. We’ve met. Which sounded familiar, so I told her: Yes, I remember. Although I wasn’t at all sure that I did.
And here she nodded and turned away, not coming back with her own story immediately, but waiting in silence for several seconds instead, the air textured all around us with radio squelch, rotor wash, the sound of the falls, all those uncountable sirens. I recognized in her pause the long habit of self-concealment around journalists. Forget about all those interviews and profiles after her gold-medal win in Geneva eight years before. The tide of curiosity as her athletic fame so quickly morphed into something bigger. The celebrity engagement to the French film director. The paparazzi outside her Paris hotel after he left her for the tennis player. Her highprofile term as a UNICEF Global Ambassador. She’d faced them all squarely, the photographers and the networks. She’d accommodated the local press on her return home from Europe, their loved daughter. Always gracious, never minding that they called her Evey like she wasn’t thirty-two years old but still a
kid. It was true that she had lived in the media, lived in our gaze. But none of it would have prepared her for this occasion, as we stood together in the post-normal. This lean, unwavering beauty. The slumped and damaged hack opposite.
Something blinked to life in my memory. Eve Latour had given an interview to a men’s magazine several years before. One of those cleavage and six-pack catalogs. Eve Latour sitting in an old Ukrainian deli, a famous place in this city. In the Heights, I thought. Not too far from where we were standing. In the photograph, she was wearing an impressively ugly cableknit sweater, her head cracked back laughing, mid-conversation with the old guy who ran the place. She told the interviewer that she planned never to leave the city again. She didn’t want to. More importantly, she didn’t need to. She’d seen the world and seen what it had to give. She knew now that everything required in life was right there close at hand, at home. And if it wasn’t—whatever thing or experience—then she could certainly learn to live without it.
I loved that detail, then and now. That Eve Latour was the kind of person who didn’t let herself be tormented by those desires that could not be satisfied.
Eve Latour continued to think of something else, a long loop of thought that took her away from me, her eyes drifting to the buildings opposite, to the sky, to a jet passing overhead. Military. Heading east. It made a sound like a God-scale fabric being torn down the length of its seam.
Then she surprised me again. She motioned we should walk. She took my arm. Again, the physical contact. Again the willing, familiar touch. This time with a new authority. So it was that I crossed the broken Heights, over to the shoulder of the hill, walking arm in arm with Eve Latour. And right at the crest—where the whole downtown delta was revealed, those high and magical spires, each one shimmering in its individual haze of sorrow and money, poised to carry on—right there, she started talking.
She’d been at home, she said. As for so many others, the first images of the Meme Media Hostage Crisis had flickered to consciousness in the upholstered safety of a living room. She remembered the fire, the first gunshots. All of which had been terrible, but not nearly as terrible as what followed. That spilling of events from the inside to the outside, that sense of contagion, violence spreading from one to so many and with such seeming ease. She wondered if it had happened that way, if people had lost themselves in these events, because so many of the hostages had been children.
I didn’t say anything. I just kept walking as she steered us into the street, dead intersection lights overhead, swaying in the breeze off the river. Her foot crunched broken glass and pieces of brick. We crossed to the opposite sidewalk and she asked my name. And when I told her she repeated it quickly, as if it had been there, right on the tip of her tongue.
Thom Pegg, she said. And she turned to look at me, her eyebrows raised. She seemed, incredibly, to be finding some upside in the moment, to be tapping some secret source of hope.
But she didn’t tell me what it was, just then. She only nodded again and tightened her grip on my arm, pulling me along. Towards something. That much seemed clear. But what was it? Where was it? I didn’t ask, and she offered no answers. And while I might have pressed on another day, in another frame of mind, on that day, in that frame of mind—shifting gaps in my memory and a pervasive sense of being lost—I let myself be pulled down the street by this famous and mysterious person, this angel. I let her lead me, walking briskly now, dropping down the hill towards the river, the sound of the falls growing and growing. The wind unseasonably high.