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Authors: Peter S.; Peter S. Beagle; Joe R. Lansdale Beagle

The Urban Fantasy Anthology (10 page)

BOOK: The Urban Fantasy Anthology
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I walked out to my chalet through the rain, my overnight bag in my hand, clutching the set of keys that would, the desk clerk told me, get me through the various doors and gates. The air smelled of wet dust and, curiously enough, cough mixture. It was dusk, almost dark.

Water splashed everywhere. It ran in rills and rivulets across the courtyard. It ran into a small fishpond that jutted out from the side of a wall in the courtyard.

I walked up the stairs into a dank little room. It seemed a poor kind of a place for a star to die.

The bed seemed slightly damp, and the rain drummed a maddening beat on the air-conditioning system.

I watched a little television—the rerun wasteland:
Cheers
segued imperceptibly into
Taxi
, which flickered into black and white and became
I Love Lucy
—then stumbled into sleep.

I dreamed of drummers intermittently drumming, only thirty minutes away.

The phone woke me. “Hey-hey-hey-hey. You made it okay then?”

“Who is this?”

“It’s Jacob at the studio. Are we still on for breakfast, hey-hey?”

“Breakfast…?”

“No problem. I’ll pick you up at your hotel in thirty minutes. Reservations are already made. No problems. You got my messages?”

“I…”

“Faxed ’em through last night. See you.”

The rain had stopped. The sunshine was warm and bright: proper Hollywood light. I walked up to the main building, walking on a carpet of crushed eucalyptus leaves—the cough medicine smell from the night before.

They handed me an envelope with a fax in it—my schedule for the next few days, with messages of encouragement and faxed handwritten doodles in the margin, saying things like
“This is Gonna be a Blockbuster!”
and
“Is this Going to be a Great Movie or What!
” The fax was signed by Jacob Klein, obviously the voice on the phone. I had never before had any dealings with a Jacob Klein.

A small red sports car drew up outside the hotel. The driver got out and waved at me. I walked over. He had a trim, pepper-and-salt beard, a smile that was almost bankable, and a gold chain around his neck. He showed me a copy of
Sons of Man.

He was Jacob. We shook hands.

“Is David around? David Gambol?”

David Gambol was the man I’d spoken to earlier on the phone when arranging the trip. He wasn’t the producer. I wasn’t certain quite what he was. He described himself as “attached to the project.”

“David’s not with the studio anymore. I’m kind of running the project now, and I want you to know I’m really psyched. Hey-hey.”

“That’s good?”

We got in the car. “Where’s the meeting?” I asked.

He shook his head. “It’s not a meeting,” he said. “It’s a breakfast.” I looked puzzled. He took pity on me. “A kind of pre-meeting meeting,” he explained.

We drove from the hotel to a mall somewhere half an hour away while Jacob told me how much he enjoyed my book and how delighted he was that he’d become attached to the project. He said it was his idea to have me put up in the hotel—“Give you the kind of Hollywood experience you’d never get at the Four Seasons or Ma Maison, right?”—and asked me if I was staying in the chalet in which John Belushi had died. I told him I didn’t know, but that I rather doubted it.

“You know who he was with, when he died? They covered it up, the studios.”

“No. Who?”

“Meryl and Dustin.”

“This is Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman we’re talking about?”

“Sure.”

“How do you know this?”

“People talk. It’s Hollywood. You know?”

I nodded as if I did know, but I didn’t.

People talk about books that write themselves, and it’s a lie. Books don’t write themselves. It takes thought and research and backache and notes and more time and more work than you’d believe.

Except for
Sons of Man,
and that one pretty much wrote itself.

The irritating question they ask us—us being writers—is: “Where do you get your ideas?”

And the answer is: Confluence. Things come together. The right ingredients and suddenly:
Abracadabra!

It began with a documentary on Charles Manson I was watching more or less by accident (it was on a videotape a friend lent me after a couple of things I
did
want to watch): there was footage of Manson, back when he was first arrested, when people thought he was innocent and that it was the government picking on the hippies. And up on the screen was Manson—a charismatic, good-looking, messianic orator. Someone you’d crawl barefoot into Hell for. Someone you could kill for.

The trial started; and, a few weeks into it, the orator was gone, replaced by a shambling, apelike gibberer, with a cross carved into its forehead. Whatever the genius was was no longer there. It was gone. But it had been there.

The documentary continued: a hard-eyed ex-con who had been in prison with Manson, explaining, “Charlie Manson? Listen, Charlie was a joke. He was a nothing. We laughed at him. You know? He was a nothing!”

And I nodded. There was a time before Manson was the charisma king, then. I thought of a benediction, something given, that was taken away.

I watched the rest of the documentary obsessively. Then, over a black-and-white still, the narrator said something. I rewound, and he said it again.

I had an idea. I had a book that wrote itself.

The thing the narrator had said was this: that the infant children Manson had fathered on the women of The Family were sent to a variety of children’s homes for adoption, with court-given surnames that were certainly not Manson.

And I thought of a dozen twenty-five-year-old Mansons. Thought of the charisma-thing descending on all of them at the same time. Twelve young Mansons, in their glory, gradually being pulled toward L.A. from all over the world. And a Manson daughter trying desperately to stop them from coming together and, as the back cover blurb told us, “realizing their terrifying destiny.”

I wrote
Sons of Man
at white heat: it was finished in a month, and I sent it to my agent, who was surprised by it (“Well, it’s not like your other stuff, dear,” she said helpfully), and she sold it after an auction—my first—for more money than I had thought possible. (My other books, three collections of elegant, allusive and elusive ghost stories, had scarcely paid for the computer on which they were written.)

And then it was bought—prepublication—by Hollywood, again after an auction. There were three or four studios interested: I went with the studio who wanted me to write the script. I knew it would never happen, knew they’d never come through. But then the faxes began to spew out of my machine, late at night—most of them enthusiastically signed by one Dave Gambol; one morning I signed five copies of a contract thick as a brick; a few weeks later my agent reported the first check had cleared and tickets to Hollywood had arrived, for “preliminary talks.” It seemed like a dream.

The tickets were business class. It was the moment I saw the tickets were business class that I knew the dream was real.

I went to Hollywood in the bubble bit at the top of the jumbo jet, nibbling smoked salmon and holding a hot-off-the-presses hardback of
Sons of Man.

So. Breakfast.

They told me how much they loved the book. I didn’t quite catch anybody’s name. The men had beards or baseball caps or both; the women were astoundingly attractive, in a sanitary sort of way.

Jacob ordered our breakfast, and paid for it. He explained that the meeting coming up was a formality.

“It’s your book we love,” he said. “Why would we have bought your book if we didn’t want to make it? Why would we have hired
you
to write it if we didn’t want the specialness you’d bring to the project. The
you-ness
.”

I nodded, very seriously, as if literary me-ness was something I had spent many hours pondering.

“An idea like this. A book like this. You’re pretty unique.”

“One of the uniquest,” said a woman named Dina or Tina or possibly Deanna.

I raised an eyebrow. “So what am I meant to do at the meeting?”

“Be receptive,” said Jacob. “Be positive.”

The drive to the studio took about half an hour in Jacob’s little red car. We drove up to the security gate, where Jacob had an argument with the guard. I gathered that he was new at the studio and had not yet been issued a permanent studio pass.

Nor, it appeared, once we got inside, did he have a permanent parking place. I still do not understand the ramifications of this: from what he said, parking places had as much to do with status at the studio as gifts from the emperor determined one’s status in the court of ancient China.

We drove through the streets of an oddly flat New York and parked in front of a huge old bank.

Ten minutes’ walk, and I was in a conference room, with Jacob and all the people from breakfast, waiting for someone to come in. In the flurry I’d rather missed who the someone was and what he or she did. I took out my copy of my book and put it in front of me, a talisman of sorts.

Someone came in. He was tall, with a pointy nose and a pointy chin, and his hair was too long—he looked like he’d kidnapped someone much younger and stolen their hair. He was an Australian, which surprised me.

He sat down.

He looked at me.

“Shoot,” he said.

I looked at the people from the breakfast, but none of them were looking at me—I couldn’t catch anyone’s eye. So I began to talk: about the book, about the plot, about the end, the showdown in the L.A. nightclub, where the good Manson girl blows the rest of them up. Or thinks she does. About my idea for having one actor play all the Manson boys.

“Do you believe this stuff?” It was the first question from the Someone. That one was easy. It was one I’d already answered for at least two dozen British journalists.

“Do I believe that a supernatural power possessed Charles Manson for a while and is even now possessing his many children? No. Do I believe that something strange was happening? I suppose I must. Perhaps it was simply that, for a brief while, his madness was in step with the madness of the world outside. I don’t know.”

“Mm. This Manson kid. He could be Keanu Reaves?”

God, no,
I thought. Jacob caught my eye and nodded desperately. “I don’t see why not,” I said. It was all imagination anyway. None of it was real.

“We’re cutting a deal with his people,” said the Someone, nodding thoughtfully.

They sent me off to do a treatment for them to approve. And by
them,
I understood they meant the Australian Someone, although I was not entirely sure.

Before I left, someone gave me $700 and made me sign for it: two weeks
per diem.

I spent two days doing the treatment. I kept trying to forget the book, and structure the story as a film. The work went well. I sat in the little room and typed on a notebook computer the studio had sent down for me, and printed out pages on the bubble-jet printer the studio sent down with it. I ate in my room.

Each afternoon I would go for a short walk down Sunset Boulevard. I would walk as far as the “almost all-nite” bookstore, where I would buy a newspaper. Then I would sit outside in the hotel courtyard for half an hour, reading a newspaper. And then, having had my ration of sun and air, I would go back into the dark, and turn my book back into something else.

There was a very old black man, a hotel employee, who would walk across the courtyard each day with almost painful slowness and water the plants and inspect the fish. He’d grin at me as he went past, and I’d nod at him.

On the third day I got up and walked over to him as he stood by the fish pool, picking out bits of rubbish by hand: a couple of coins and a cigarette packet.

“Hello,” I said.

“Suh,” said the old man.

I thought about asking him not to call me sir, but I couldn’t think of a way to put it that might not cause offense. “Nice fish.”

He nodded and grinned. “Ornamental carp. Brought here all the way from China.”

We watched them swim around the little pool.

“I wonder if they get bored.”

He shook his head. “My grandson, he’s an ichthyologist, you know what that is?”

“Studies fishes.”

“Uh-huh. He says they only got a memory that’s like thirty seconds long. So they swim around the pool, it’s always a surprise to them, going ‘I never been here before.’ They meet another fish they known for a hundred years, they say, ‘Who are you, stranger?’”

“Will you ask your grandson something for me?” The old man nodded. “I read once that carp don’t have set life spans. They don’t age like we do. They die if they’re killed by people or predators or disease, but they don’t just get old and die. Theoretically they could live forever.”

He nodded. “I’ll ask him. It sure sounds good. These three—now, this one, I call him Ghost, he’s only four, five years old. But the other two, they came here from China back when I was first here.”

“And when was that?”

“That would have been, in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-four. How old do I look to you?”

I couldn’t tell. He might have been carved from old wood. Over fifty and younger than Methuselah. I told him so.

“I was born in 1906. God’s truth.”

“Were you born here, in L.A.?”

He shook his head. “When I was born, Los Angeles wasn’t nothin’ but an orange grove, a long way from New York.” He sprinkled fish food on the surface of the water. The three fish bobbed up, pale-white silvered ghost carp, staring at us, or seeming to, the O’s of their mouths continually opening and closing, as if they were talking to us in some silent, secret language of their own.

I pointed to the one he had indicated. “So he’s Ghost, yes?”

“He’s Ghost. That’s right. That one under the lily—you can see his tail, there, see?—he’s called Buster, after Buster Keaton. Keaton was staying here when we got the older two. And this one’s our Princess.”

Princess was the most recognizable of the white carp. She was a pale cream color, with a blotch of vivid crimson along her back, setting her apart from the other two.

BOOK: The Urban Fantasy Anthology
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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