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'Don't sweat it, Larry, it's a walk in the park.'
Oh, gee, thanks, Larry thought. He was sure it had the potential to be a walk in the park and a precedent for being a walk in the park, but now that Bannon had gone and said that, he figured he'd better be on the lookout for gang wars, serial killers, King Kong and Godzilla.
Not that Larry wasn't on the lookout for all of the above anyway, these days, although not for the same reasons as everybody else in this screwed-up town.
'Just as long as I ain't goin' down there to hear any Chamber of Commerce requests to lay off bustin' the delegates for coke on account of the valuable trade they're bringin' into Santa M.'
Bannon laughed, shaking his head. Larry figured if the captain had known him a bit longer he'd have placed a daddy-knows-best hand on his shoulder, too.
'Larry, for the most part, this is the shitcan end of the movie business. European art-faggots, Taiwanese kung-fu merchants and LA independents workin' out of fortieth-floor broom closets in mid-Wilshire. Unless they clean up at the Pacific Vista these two weeks, they can't afford any coke. Goin' by the budgets of their movies, you're more likely gonna be bustin' them for solvent abuse. There won't be any trouble, I guarantee it.'
'The movie market moved down here to the coast from the Beverly Center about seven years back, and there's never been a hint of a problem in all that time.'
Yeah, keep it coming, Larry thought. You've just about got it thoroughly hexed for me now.
'These guys, they come here from all over the US and all around the world,' Bannon explained. 'They show each other their shitty movies, they press flesh, they schmooze, and if they're lucky, they do some deals. Close of business they hit the seafood restaurants, throw ass-kissing parties to impress each other, try and get laid, then it's back to their hotels and up at eight to start over. I did your job the first three years. No trick to it. It's a figurehead deal. In their minds you're kind of the LAPD's corporate representative, someone who'll show his face every so often, smile a lot, and tell them nothing of any substance if they ask questions.
'All the organisers need to hear is that we're maintaining a high profile, so the visitors ain't too scared of bein' mugged, shot, gang-raped or ritually cannibalised to walk around town. That means more uniformed beat officers in the pedestrian areas, plenty of patrol cars on Ocean Boulevard and along the beach, all that shit. Ironic, really. Our purpose is to reassure them that none of their movies will come true – well, not to them at least.'
Bannon sat back on the edge of his desk. 'Think you can handle that, big guy?' he asked.
'You don't look so sure. Would you rather be out with Zabriski today, maybe? Let's see ...' He thumbed through some notes on his desk. 'Railway worker, laid off last Friday, walks into the AmTrak offices on Third at eight thirty this morning and deposits a black polythene sack in the lobby. It's one of these atrium deals, you know, with like three or four floors looking down on to the concourse. Telephones bomb warning eight thirty-five, detonates at eight forty-two. Sack contained a small but significant amount of explosive, probably basic demolition stuff. Not enough to cause any fatalities, but enough to distribute the contents of the sack approximately sixty feet in every direction, including up. Guy was, how'd they put it? a "sanitation engineer". Some of that stuff must have come all the way from Frisco before he syphoned it out the train. Four floors, Larry.'
'I'll just be getting down to the Pacific Vista, Captain. Got someone to talk to about this American Feature Film Market thing.'
It wasn't paranoia, Larry knew. It was plain old insecurity. He'd have been suspicious of being given this AFFM 'liaison' gig anyway, simply because he was still very much the new guy, and it might well be the sort of shit detail everyone else knew to steer clear of. He knew the scene, could see the station house, smell the coffee:
'So who's gonna handle the annual fiasco at the Pacific Vista this year, then? Zabriski? Rankin? Torres? What's that? You already volunteered to escort a Klan rally through Watts? Shit. Oh, wait a minute. The new guy'll have started by then. Let's give it to him.'
Nah. Maybe not. He believed Bannon. It was just that everything new made him nervous these days, like he was a damn rookie again. Loss of confidence, loss of self-esteem. He could imagine the phrases on a report somewhere, sympathetic but scrutinising. 'Let's see if he can get it back together, but we better get a desk job lined up somewhere just in case. Poor bastard. Helluva cop once ...'
He knew he'd be okay at the Pacific Vista. All Larry's shakes were on the inside. The AFFM guy would look him up and down and see a physically imposing and relaxedly confident police officer, rather than the learner driver Larry felt was behind the wheel. He'd handle everything calmly and professionally, and the market would go off without a hitch. Bannon would be correct. It would be a walk in the park.
He knew what was wrong. He'd lost the reassuring illusion of control. These days he was approaching everything with unaccustomed trepidation; not a fear that anyone was out to get him, but that he wouldn't see danger until it was already upon him. He kept experiencing déjà vu, recurring waves of it that would freeze him for a moment, deer in the headlamps. It was unsettling, but at least he could recognise it as a symptom, and from there make the diagnosis:
Fear of the future.
Larry knew déjà vu wasn't any mystic or psychic phenomenon, just crossed wires in his head. Signals went from the senses to their regular destination in the brain, except that they took an accidental detour via the memory synapses. What you got through your eyes and ears you thought you were getting from deep inside your mind. It happened to everyone now and again, but to Larry it happened a lot when he was under a certain, specific kind of stress: the stress of not knowing what happens next. Not ordinary worries about dreaded or hoped-for possibilities, like before starting a new job or moving to a different city, but the vertiginous, isolated blankness of facing a future you couldn't even speculate upon. A confused helplessness of not even knowing what to dread or to hope for, because you just can't envisage what's ahead in any way, good, bad or indifferent.
The part of his mind that normally occupied itself with constructing models of possible futures – next year or even just next week – was left grinding gears, and the déjà vu was probably a resultant malfunction.
Sophie had gone for more tests last Thursday. She was the pregnant one, but it was Larry who felt he was going to be sick all the way to the clinic.
Why did he have to feel surprised that everything was fine? Or feel that the doctors were lying to them, maybe until they felt they were strong enough to hear the tragic truth? Why, when he looked at the ultrasound scan, could he not believe he would ever see the child depicted in its hazy image?
Maybe the future was blank because he was scared to let himself hope. He already knew how scared he was to let himself dread.
Larry had worked hard at resisting the 'impending fatherhood' variant of cop psychosis. He had seen it around him on the job and its self-corrosive ugliness provided a vividly appalling warning. Decent cops, guys you thought you knew, underwent a shocking transformation, as the man you used to work with barricaded himself in behind barbed wire, broken glass and howling dogs. It was as if they suddenly saw every crime, every murder or rape or mutilation, as a personal affront, fucking up the perfect world they had planned to bring their new child into. Every lowlife they dealt with on the street was no longer just some scumbag, but a direct potential threat to their delicate offspring. They couldn't see a victim any more without seeing their kid. They got hardened. And then they got brutal.
He had worried he might succumb this time, let the poisonous fears and insecurities transmute within him and secrete themselves as armour and weaponry on the outside. Instead he just felt kind of helpless. As if the future was rushing towards him faster than he had anticipated, and all he could do was watch; watch events develop, even watch himself take a role and play his part. It felt like the old-time raceway down at Disneyland. It might look like you were steering the car, and you could even pretend to yourself that you were, but if you let go of the wheel it would follow the track around anyway.
He and Sophie hadn't been trying for a baby. He didn't think they were even at the stage yet where they could have that conversation. Guess it just happened. One or other of those tearful clinches where they just held on to each other in the darkness, pressing their bodies always tighter, where neither of them noticed the moment when holding became caressing, pressing became grinding, and the emotional need for closeness became an animal need for penetration.
So maybe it was partly that he didn't feel ready, but Jesus, when were either of them ever going to be ready? What was ready anyway? Was it when you stopped crying yourself to sleep sitting on the floor in David's room? When you stopped waking up in the night because you saw him dying once more in your dream? When you stopped hearing his voice among the laughter every time you passed a schoolyard?
When you stopped feeling?
Larry had to jump on the brakes as he turned his car into the horseshoe driveway in front of the Pacific Vista. The hotel was split into two seven-storey wings either side of an elongated hexagonal lobby. The first floors of the wings extended inwards to create a wide gallery overlooking the central concourse, but the remaining storeys were glass-walled about ten yards back on either side. This was to accommodate the towering centrepiece, a steeply sloping canopy of glass, rising high above the lobby on four sides to a flattened summit, into which, in an unsurpassed feat of architectural piss-taking, there was sunk a rooftop swimming-pool. The bottom of this was, of course, also glass, allowing the sunlight to continue down through the chlorinated water and dance shimmeringly around the lobby. Up top, the effect was supposed to be of the pool having vast and glistening depth, which was probably true. However, the anticipated further spectacle of bethonged babes floating above the desks, shops, cafés and restaurants had legendarily failed to materialise, as visions of plunging through water, glass and then a hundred feet of nothing at all proved sufficiently discouraging to most guests, however many safety assurances were advertised.
The other architectural oversight was that at certain (i.e. most) times of day, due to the angle of the sun, the whole thing turned into some kind of giant refractor lens, blazing white light out at the front or back like a laser blast. This made the horseshoe avenue a popular hang-out for personal- injury lawyers, as suddenly blinded drivers rear-ended each other, shunted bell-hop carts (and bell- hops) and occasionally ran over guests handing their car keys to the blue-uniformed valets. If you came in on foot, you felt like a bug under a cruel kid's magnifying glass.
Larry had been there once before, investigating a bomb-scare. He'd turned on to Pacific Drive from Santa Monica Boulevard and thought the thing must have gone off, because the bomb-squad truck and two black-and-whites were zigzagged wildly across the blacktop, which was littered with debris from smashed headlamps and tail-lights. Turned out they had all rushed to the scene in the usual blue-light scramble, then concertinae'd each other when the big beam hit. Damascus Drive, folks called it now.
Larry remembered just in time. He brought the car to an abrupt stop, pulled down the shade-panels and slipped on his sunglasses. Now, through the windshield, he could make out a host of silhouettes against the fierce glow, like the last scene in Close Encounters. He edged forward slowly, glancing nervously into the rear-view mirror for advance notice of the architect's next unsuspecting victim. A blue courier truck came rapidly into view, but a paint-scored dent in its fender assured Larry it wasn't the driver's first visit. The truck slowed to a crawl and limped tentatively towards the main entrance behind Larry's four-door.
Larry climbed out and slung his jacket over his shoulder, the concentrated blast of sunlight having briefly turned the inside of his car into a microwave. The hotel had a 'greeter' on duty, standing on the blue carpet in front of the sliding doors, a white-bread blonde in a short skirt and a jacket, her smile almost as fake as her surgically sculpted nose. She was the covert first line of defence, ostensibly welcoming visitors to the premises but actually delaying them a moment while the security desk checked them out via the camera eight feet behind her head. She had an earpiece and a wire-thin mike following the line of her jaw. The say-cheese face and the confidence wavered momentarily as Larry climbed the few steps towards her. The reaction was almost tediously familiar, but some days he still enjoyed the look of helpless discomfiture. This was one of them, and he'd even switched the jacket to his right shoulder so that his holster was visible.
'Giant bald black guy carrying a gun at twelve o'clock. Mayday. Mayday. No information on this. Repeat, no information on this.'
The greeter had clocked the valet accepting Larry's keys, which somehow validated him for Official Greetee status. She took a quick breath and went into action. 'Good afternoon, sir, and welcome to the Pacific Vista hotel. How are you today?'
Larry smiled. Angst-ridden, bereaved, paranoid, nervous, strung out and suffering mild symptoms of fin-de-siècle cataclysmic psychosis. Also known as ...
'And what is your business at the Pacific Vista today, sir?'
He pulled his badge out of his shirt pocket and pointed it beyond the greeter to the video camera. 'I'm Sergeant Larry Freeman of the LAPD, Santa Monica first precinct. I'm here to see Paul Silver of the American Feature Film Marketing Board.'
Larry watched her eyes stray from him for a second as she listened to a message through her earpiece.
'He'll be right down, Sergeant Freeman.' She smiled, suddenly back on-line. 'Would you like to come inside and take a cold drink while you wait?'
'No thank you,' he said, turning back to face the horseshoe. 'I'd prefer to stay here just for the moment, if that's okay with you guys.'
'Of course, sir. Would you like a cold drink brought out to you here?'
'Why, that would be most civilised.'
A waiter appeared, in an unfeasibly short few moments, carrying a tray bearing a pitcher of fruit punch and a tall glass with ice in it. He poured the drink and handed it to Larry.
'Thank you,' Larry told him, then held up the glass to the security camera. 'Cheers,' he mouthed.
The fruit punch was pink in a way that no fruit had ever been (not that kind of fruit, anyway), and Larry noticed with a grin that it perfectly matched the pink beams that highlighted the hotel's exterior décor. Glass, glass and more glass, with all opaque materials either a soft aqua or this peachy-pink. He figured there must have been a serious paint production surplus in these colours back in about '92, because every new building in the city had sported them since. Sophie's alternative theory was that some real camp guy got elected the city's construction-materials regulator, and you just couldn't get anything else past his Garish-Guard chromatoscope. 'Green? Green? By the ocean? Are you kidding me? Pleeeease!'
Larry sipped the punch and looked back down the drive, where trucks were being unloaded of chipboard partitions, cable drums and aluminum stanchions by squinting young men in white T-shirts, all bearing the AFFM's logo. Tempers were beginning to get frayed by the frequent incidence of light-dazzled collision. After a while they sussed a system of using the boards as sunshields, with the guys carrying the other equipment falling in behind.
More vans were pulling up all the time and stopping suddenly, either in quick reaction to the glare or because they had encountered a stationary object up-front. Their drivers handed boxes, packages and cardboard tubes to T-shirted workers or occasionally to stiffly coiffured women in sharp suits. Clipboards were signed. Receipts were dispatched. Everybody had a laminate. Everybody had a mobile.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Not The End Of The World"
Copyright © 1998 Christopher Brookmyre.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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