Caffeine Nights Publishing

 

 

Look Who’s Watching

 

Martin Goodman

 

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Published by Caffeine Nights Publishing 2010

 

Copyright © Martin Goodman 2010

 

Martin Goodman has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 to be identified as the author of this work

 

CONDITIONS OF SALE

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, scanning, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher

 

This book has been sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental

 

Published in Great Britain by Caffeine Nights Publishing

 

www.caffeine-nights.com

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

 

ISBN: 978-1-907565-05-2

Cover design by

Mark (Wills) Williams

Everything else by

Default, Luck and Accident

 

For

 

Greg Wise & Emma Thompson

 

Though Spring flowers fade in Autumn

Bees don’t mourn.

My loved one will die and so will I

But we must not cry

 

In this life’s short span

We’ve shared joy.

Who knows, we may yet meet

When next we are young

 

From

Songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama

(Translation: the author)

 

Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six

Chapter Twenty Seven

Chapter Twenty Eight

Chapter Twenty Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty One

Epilogue

Prologue: The Set-up

 

Take Los Angeles, strip it of everything that makes it interesting, move it inland a thousand miles and up its altitude by seven thousand feet, and you have Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Rich actors, actors she had made rich, went dewy-eyed as they spoke of deserts and blue skies. They traded beachfronts in Malibu for acres of New Mexican dirt and thought themselves lucky.

Oh well. If actors had common sense they wouldn’t need agents. Ginger took the rough with the smooth.

But boy, this was rough. The actress in the driving seat of their car was in absurd raptures.

“Susan,” Ginger said. “Calm down. It’s a wall. A mud wall. Mud walls are not that exciting. Mud isn’t chic.”

“Adobe,” Susan corrected her.

Ginger listened and admired. The word was nonsense, but her client pronounced it with sheer class. Susan Groves had the poise of a heron and made velvet of her vowels.

“Adobe’s more than mud. Its bricks fashioned out of the earth. You learn to appreciate what’s natural when you live here.”

Ginger looked at the wall again. Twelve feet high, traces of straw caked inside it, the sun blazing against it to turn it red as much as brown. Adobe or not, one thing was clear. The wall was mud.

“Do you know what His Holiness said when he arrived here this morning?” Susan continued.

Ginger’s reaction time was getting faster. The first time Susan had grabbed her arm and whispered “There’s His Holiness!” at her she had turned her head in search of the Pope. Wrong religion. She’d never get used to being surrounded by Buddhists, but she was learning the lingo. “His Holiness”, sometimes abbreviated to “H.H.”, never referred to the Pope. It was the breathy way these lovesick fools referred to the Dalai Lama.

Susan was staring through the car window at “His Holiness” even now. The man stood in a row of other Tibetan monks, his back to the wall.

“He looked across the desert to those mountains,” Susan persisted, “and he said the place reminded him of home. He meant Tibet, Ginger. I’ve heard Tibetan refugees say the same thing. Isn’t that lovely? It’s not the same of course. Tibet is grander. Starker. The Himalayas are higher than our mountains but they have the same essence. Ours are smaller but just as strong.”

Ginger had a deal going. She didn’t bother with religion and it didn’t bother her. As Susan spoke though, a glimmering of a religious theory floated in front of her mind. Religions were born to madmen in hot high places, she realized. Zoroaster on his Middle Eastern pinnacles. Jesus beating off the devil on a desert plateau. Mohammed taking dictation from an angel in a mountain cave above the parched lands of Mecca. Young Joseph Smith hotfooting it down the mountains of Utah, his brain burnt with revelation.  Heat sears the brain till the last scraps of commonsense bubble out as visions. Susan was a darling, but religion was doing her no good. Santa Fe was doing her no good. She was off her rocker.

Ginger let the theory float on by.

“It’s great to see him so happy!” Susan purred.

She was right. The Dalai Lama had a big grin on his face. It must be the onset of dementia, Ginger decided. Ten more minutes outdoors in that heat and he’d be frothing at the mouth. She’d play along though. Her star client was clearly infatuated with the man.

“I get to see why he’s such a great guy,” Ginger said. “This heat, those robes, yet still he’s smiling. Sweating and smiling at the same time. I’ve only ever done that on sex.”

“He laughs a lot,” Susan said, without so much as cracking a smile at Ginger’s joke. “His Holiness finds us all funny, I think.”

“No comment,” Ginger commented.

The glare of the day was muted on the other side of Ginger’s wrap-around shades, but the brightness level would stay unacceptable till nightfall. A line of Tibetan exiles, now resident in Santa Fe, waited in line to present His Holiness with a white scarf. In turn he reached a white scarf over each of their bowed heads. He smiled or laughed into the face of every one of them.

Susan Groves wound down the windows of her red Isuzu Trooper, and then turned off the ignition. Ginger reached across and turned it on again, and wound the windows back up.

“What’s with you, Susan? You want this goose cooked? Leave that engine purring and the a/c on full blast.”

“It’s lousy for the environment, pumping out fumes while we’re standing still.”

“What environment?” Ginger glared through the window at the desert. “That? I’m an agent. I’ve got a golden rule. I take care of what takes care of me. That environment’s no client of mine.”

She turned the a/c control to maximum but it murmured rather than roared. Sweat poured down her neck and towards her breasts without ever getting cooled.

“You’ve got a shiny new Oscar,” Ginger continued. The statuette lay on the back seat of the car. “That makes you a star. One of the brightest. Stars shine at night, Susan. They don’t climb up mountains and compete with the sun. They don’t live in mud houses. They live in the real world.”

“The real world?”

“Hollywood.”

Susan laughed. Ginger watched and admired. It was the laughter of a madwoman but Susan tipped her head back just slightly so the laughter rippled down her throat. It looked beautiful. The notes of the laugh flowed along her throat as smooth as a glass of Benedictine might flow down Ginger’s. It made no difference what Susan said. It was the way she said it that mattered. Others could always provide her with the script.

“Dear, sweet Ginger,” Susan said.

It was a patronizing start but Ginger’s dry eyes were hidden behind her wrap-around shades. She forced a sincere smile as she waited for more.

“I was sure you’d get it when I got you here but you don’t, do you?”

Get what? Ginger thought. Altitude sickness?

“I thought actors were the dreamers. Agents were the cynics. But you really believe in all that Hollywood shit, don’t you? It’s not real you know, Ginger. It’s only make-believe. This is real.”

Susan turned her hand to show off the landscape. Ginger watched and admired. Few people took in such details, but Susan really did have perfect wrists. The blonde down of tiny hairs shone like gold around them.

“You make the films,” Ginger told her. “I make the deals. The bottom line is what’s real. I want to view your life? I bring your spreadsheet up on my screen. That’s what’s real.”

“Films are real. My parts are real. Real to me. When I’m in them, I’m in them. I know who I am. The more I identify with a part, the harder it is to adjust when a film wraps. That’s one reason I live here, I suppose. The air is so thin in these mountains. The light is so clear it burns through the make-believe. It makes me face up to myself, and see things more clearly.”

“So you see how beautiful you are?” Ginger asked.

Susan laughed again. This new laughter was notes singing up and down a scale, and her thick blonde strands of hair danced around her head.

“I mean it, Susan. Your life could be great, but instead you live here. You try too hard. That’s tragic. You’ve got all the beauty without knowing its secret.”

Susan tilted her head to one side and raised the clean line of a gentle eyebrow. “What secret’s that?” she asked.

“The secret of beauty is that beauty is enough. Live in your beauty and you needn’t live anywhere else.” Ginger’s brow furrowed as she stared away from Susan and at the scrubland beside the road. “You needn’t live here.”

“I had no choice. I came here on vacation. I woke up that first morning, looked out of the window, and recognized the place. It was home. I’d come home. That happens to people, Ginger. Thousands of people. They come here for the first time and know they’ve come home.”

Ginger had done her best to stay polite, but patience was never her strongest card.

“You’re all kooks,” she said. “And this city’s an asylum. You should have psychiatrists stationed at the airports, certifying your release before they let you fly. And what is it with the monks-and-scarf game out there? You promised me today wasn’t a religious thing.”

The Dalai Lama was still bending down to give and receive white scarves from the line of his devotees. The same ceremony was being played out in duplicate to his right.

Well, perhaps not quite in duplicate. The stream of actions was the same, with all the bowing and the nodding, but the Dalai Lama had kept up his grin. No lines cracked the face of the monk to his right. That monk’s round cheeks had the glaze of new porcelain. And while the Dalai Lama stooped his large body to the level of those bowing before him, the other monk had to reach up to place his white scarves over their heads.

The Dalai Lama was an elderly man. The other monk was an eight year old boy called Drakpa Rinpoche. Ginger knew him best as her client and Susan’s co-star in her last movie. It was curious to see him acting in this other role of his, as a reincarnate lama and head of a large Tibetan religious order. She’d like to drive up there and snatch him away. Take him for a Big Mac and a milkshake. Have him grin like a kid instead of playing so solemn.

“You mean this little scene?” Susan asked. “This isn’t religious. It’s spiritual. That’s something you have to understand about the Tibetans. Everything they do is a spiritual act. The Dalai Lama is their political leader, but also their spiritual leader. This is the way they greet him. It’s a piece of sacred theatre.”

“Honey, the light here might cut through bullshit but the sun’s addled your brain. Everything Tibetans do is a spiritual act? You remember those calls you made to me from the set last summer? What’s the difference between flies and Tibetan advisers, you asked me. Answer: You’re allowed to swat flies. Still, that was before the part won you an Oscar. I suppose an Oscar can turn any girl’s head. So this big ceremony today won’t be religious? It’ll have some of that Oscar glitz? I need something, Susan. Something more my style after coming all this way.”

“Santa Fe’s got style. It figures in every annual Condé Nast top-ten travel destinations list.”

“So find me a smart bar downtown. Ply me with margaritas till sunset. Do that for me and I’ll look more kindly on this whole mud dump of a place. Don’t do what you’ve done. Don’t drive me to the outskirts and park me in the desert.”

“I wanted to sit here and watch a while. See this little ceremony away from the crowds. It’s a shame you can’t visit the stupa on a regular day.”

“The stupa?”

“This building here, with the white onion dome and gilded top. There’s a beautiful Buddha in a cave built onto the side of the roof, a Buddha who’s young and lean and smiling. Behind this wall they’ve laid out a beautiful oasis. I come and visit its gardens once a week. I stare at the lilies in the pond and feed the fish. It’s so calming. You won’t see it today though. It’s all covered by a tent and filled with rows of seating. This little scene outside, with Drakpa and His Holiness, this is something of what I get inside that garden. It’s Buddhism at its simplest. I wanted you to see it.”

“Much obliged.”

Ginger ignored the scene and brought a compact out of her bag. Preparing to dab the sweat off her face before readjusting her make-up, she pulled down the visor. A vanity mirror was fitted into the plastic. She took a look.

“Honey," she bellowed. "Prepare for a truck up the ass."

Susan spun round to look through the rear screen. Its view of desert and mountains was gone. In its place was the gleaming chrome front of a truck. Its horn blared out like a train crossing a prairie, scattering thoughts from Susan’s head.

One thought stuck. Get out of the road.

Thank God Ginger had set the engine running. Susan slammed the stick into drive and the car lurched forward. The brakes of the truck squealed as it settled into the space she vacated.

The party of Tibetan monks and followers paused in their ceremony and looked up at the sudden rush of action. Susan had lost her interest in Buddhism for a while. She opened the car door and leapt out into a blast of hot air.

"Motherfucker!" she yelled.

She stared up into the eyes of the truck driver.

Cold eyes, a steel gray. A shaved, square head with all the warmth and personality of a drill sergeant.

He stared her out while raising a hand, cocked like a pistol.

Ginger didn’t bother with the truck. She was watching the dirt road beside the stupa. Four men and a woman were kicking up dust as they ran toward the scene.

"Go on! Get into a fight!” she yelled at Susan across the empty driver’s seat. “It’ll make great headlines. Look!”

Susan turned to see Ginger pointing, then turned again to see the four figures running her way. Three held cameras, the fourth a microphone. It was the press.

"‘Star in road rage assault!’” Ginger improvised. “‘Actress pulped at Buddhist roadshow!’"

Susan jumped back into the car and shifted the transmission to drive. Locking the steering wheel into a right-hand turn she sped from the highway, past the journalists and the monks.

Ginger turned to stare at the Dalai Lama as they sped past. "What a guy. You scream obscenities, drive straight at him, and still he smiles. Has he got an agent?"

"You've got me. You've got Drakpa…” Ginger’s seatbelt gripped tight as Susan spun the wheel. Dust spat up behind them as they veered into the private parking area round the back of the Buddhist complex. “Be satisfied!”

Susan stamped on the brake as she spoke. The seatbelt worked the miracle of holding Ginger’s body in position, though her jaw hit her breastbone as her head shot forward. She eased it back, testing for signs of whiplash. A tree’s branches were pressed against the windscreen. The car had stopped an inch short of the tree’s trunk. Ginger tried moving her head to the left. It worked. She watched as Susan opened the car door and stepped out.

“I’ve left it running,” Susan said. Ginger watched her star client give her head an almost imperceptible shake. That was it. With that one little shiver she had pulled herself together. “You can keep the a/c on. Stay here till you’ve cooled down. I’ll see you inside.”

The door clicked shut. Susan was gone. Ginger snapped free of her seatbelt, turned off the ignition, and pushed open her door. She wasn’t limber enough to chase after Susan but she could sure as hell yell.

“Goddamit Susan. I’m no cat. I’m no Buddhist. I’ve only got one life. You nearly killed me.”

Susan turned her head before disappearing into the tent, and smiled. That famous smile of hers that showed sympathy without triumph. Ginger felt her anger burst at the sight. It just evaporated to leave her head a dizzy vacuum. Doom had sent her to New Mexico for one reason: to stay as close to Susan as possible.

The heat of outdoors shoved itself against her as Ginger staggered out of her seat and headed for the cover of the tent.

 

 

Chapter One: Death in the Afternoon

 

The truck driver reclined his seat, shut his eyes, and dropped into a dreamless sleep. He had no worries. He wouldn't miss his next call to action. He was a sensitive sleeper. The sound of gunfire always woke him.

His only load was one passenger. The body of the truck was wrapped in dark green tarpaulin. Fabricated and shipped out from Shanghai, the tarpaulin disguise had been stretched over the truck at its origination point in Wisconsin. Now they were on Airport Road on the outskirts of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The tarpaulin could be pulled off by the simple tugging of four ropes and then stowed in the back as the truck’s only cargo. The truck could then race on with its fresh identity, brash and unrecognizable in the bold letters and flash colors of a company logo.

A second skin of tarpaulin was sewn onto the truck’s roof, to make a flap with an entrance open on the sidewalk side. This flap was long enough to hide a man lying flat out with arms stretched high. It had room enough for that man to raise himself onto his elbows.

Trapped between steel and fierce sun, the air inside this tarpaulin skin would bake a lizard.

But not Hu.

Hu was brought up in the city of Wuhan. Back home they called it “the oven of China”.

Hu's body lay pooled in its own sweat. A red bandanna tied around his forehead kept the sweat from his eyes as he traced the passage of the Isuzu round the side of the white stupa. The two monks standing by the outside of the mud wall below him, one of them elderly and the other a child, returned to their task of greeting a line of Tibetan locals.

Soon they would move on, and enter the cover of the tent.

It was foolish to wait. Hu could so easily take out the child lama now. The Dalai Lama too, for good measure. Once they were out of his sight Hu’s next view of the monks would be above the audience and under the roof of the tent. It was stupid to lie in wait through the heat for a lesser opportunity than what was before him now.

He noted the thought. Then blinked to let it go.

His mind was not trained to wander. It was trained to focus. His orders were simple

Kill the boy. Only the boy. Onstage.

Hu watched the monks make their final bows and walk out of sight. He popped a new salt tablet, and downed it with some water from a vacuum flask. To steady his mind he trained his rifle on the golden statue that sat in a niche near the top of the white stupa. It was the Buddha, young and smiling, hidden from view of all but Hu by the roof of the tent stretched across the courtyard below it.

Hu focused just above the statue’s browline. He imagined the neat hole of a bullet smashed into the Buddha’s third eye. Then he lowered his rifle to below the tent’s roof, slanted conveniently upward to allow the monks on stage a view of the sky.

And he waited.

 

 

"Run me through this again, will you honey?" Ginger said.

Susan saw her agent check her watch. 1.45pm.

"Ginger, stop it."

Ginger blinked at her. She was in her early fifties, at the top of her profession, yet when caught off-guard Ginger’s face was as puffy and vulnerable as an eight-year old's. Susan had picked her from a crowd of agents as the only one wearing a cardigan. In a world of sophistication and high cheek bones, Ginger had the guts to be her own woman.

Today she had put on some glamour. She wore a gray linen suit, white silk shirt, and amber beads. The amber beads were a constant. She had let her frizz of ginger hair turn gray, yet kept the color of her name alive in her necklace.

"Stop being an agent for a moment, would you? You're here as my friend."

"I'm here because that boyfriend of yours is too shit-scared to put his reputation on the line."

"That's not true."

"It is."

"He made it for the Oscars."

"He's a politician. He sat grinning in his chair while millions watched and admired him. Then you made your speech. I watched him. 'Freedom for Tibet!' you yelled, and punched the air. His smile died. I saw its bones beneath his lips.”

"He's with me behind the scenes. He's got to toe the British government's line in public."

"There's no behind the scenes at your level, honey. It's all in front of the camera. By the way, what's with the little guy?"

Susan had brought her Oscar with her out of the car. She smiled at Ginger and turned to look at the Tibetan party as they gathered behind the stupa. She held her statuette in front of her and approached them.

"Your Holiness," she said.

The Dalai Lama turned his soft, wide-eyed focus her way.

"May I give you this?"

“No, no,” he laughed. “It’s us. That is our job. Today we are giving you an award.”

The Light of Truth Award was a butterlamp, symbolizing the light someone had thrown on the Tibetan cause. The main purpose of this day, of the whole ceremony, was to present her with this year’s award.

"I'm very honored. Very happy. I will treasure it forever. But I have a dream for my Oscar. Please keep him safe and take him back to Tibet when you return."

"An Oscar for Tibet?" The Dalai Lama laughed. "You must give it to Drakpa, not to me. He is our film star. And he is so young while I am old. He will surely make it back to his country some day."

She turned and handed the golden figure to the eight-year old monk. Drakpa was so surprised at its weight he nearly dropped it, then laughed and clutched it tight. It was their first meeting since they had been on the set together, three months location shooting in India for Three Steps from Heaven. She played a British governess; he played one of seven children she led from Lhasa over the Himalayas to exile. The film was set in 1959. This boy lama had made his own real-life escape from Tibet forty years later.

Susan bent down and wrapped the boy in a hug. She knew the honor of his presence at the ceremony that day. In helping the Dalai Lama present the Light of Truth Award, he would be making his first public appearance in the West. As the reincarnate leader of a Buddhist lineage even older than the Dalai Lama's, the future of Tibetan Buddhism was preparing to settle on his tiny shoulders.

In public Susan found it easy to kneel before the boy, out of respect for him as a high lama. For now, she hugged him to her as a child.

She let him go and looked at him.

His grin triggered a smile of her own.

 

 

The rows of seating were full. Susan smiled as she and Ginger were directed to their front row seats, but chose not to catch anybody’s eye. She stood with everybody else as the Dalai Lama and Drakpa Rinpoche walked onto the stage, then sat down again as the monks were settled.

Drakpa’s legs were so short he failed to reach the chair's back. His feet dangled but didn't swing. His tiny hands lay in his lap, palms upward, right hand laying gently on top of the left. He sat erect. Susan looked at his eyes and kept her gaze there, waiting to see if he blinked.

He never did.

His gaze was as constant as the three sets of lenses focused on the boy.

An AF Nikor 180mm telephoto composed a frame to take in the whole golden chair that formed his throne. The photographer from Transglobe Magazine had orders for a full portfolio of close-ups of the boy lama. The chair's back rose high above the boy's shaved head. His feet dangled above a footstool that had helped him climb up to the seat.

An SN6 Tactical Versatility telescopic rifle sight skipped the details. It lingered on a spot between the thin lines of the boy's brows. Soon it would have to shift down. Orders were orders. Something less graphic and more televisual than a splattered head was needed. Something acceptable on primetime news. Still, for now there was time to kill and the target was distant and tiny. It did no harm for Hu to take a little practice. To steady his aim.

A Canon J20 lens kept the boy in the left of its field of vision as the picture was relayed to Galaxy TV’s broadcast truck parked just outside the tent. The robed Dalai Lama sat center frame. With his shaved head, big black glasses, and the smile that heightened the cheekbones in his round face, the Dalai Lama was an icon. Normally the camera operator would have zoomed in for a close-up, but the instructions for this day's filming were clear: Never, not for a moment, let the young boy lama slip from the edge of the picture.

Susan's eyes watered as she continued to stare at Drakpa. He was sitting here as a miniature model of a wise old man.

Three monks in orange robes, the bright manes of their helmets standing high, raised their eight-foot horns. In Tibet their music bellowed around mountain peaks and resounded to the heavens. Today it blew out above the audience to cross the desert and burn up in the sun.

The driver of a Ford Ranger on Airport Road turned her head to the blast of noise. She saw the white onion dome of the stupa that flared in the sun, saw the large tent in front of it, and then turned her attention back to the road. Santa Fe attracted crazies. One more sect was blowing its own trumpet. She flicked on her indicator, steered her pick-up around a truck parked on the road, then floored the accelerator to get through a distant set of lights while they were green.

The horns blasted a second time. Their sound burst from the tent to reach toward the jagged peaks of the Jemez Mountains.

A third blast on the horn.

Hu readied himself. Sun beat down on the tarpaulin that stretched over his position. His red bandanna was soaked and sweat dribbled down from his brow. Yet everything was perfect.

The third blast was his signal.

His angle of vision was narrow.

Hu’s telescopic sight moved down from Drakpa's forehead. He paused for an intimate view of the boy's snub nose, still soft with the membranes of an infant. The sight traveled down across the boy’s closed lips and tiny chin. Down the neck and the V-line of the robe. And paused on the crimson of the fabric, above the boy's heart.

Susan blinked to dry her tears. Picking up her Oscar she was not as nervous as this. Well, these were different nerves at least. Oscar-night nerves were consumed in mass excitement. She wasn't herself on that occasion. More like a sardine caught in a tidal wave, its silver sides catching the light, the emotions she showed no longer hers but belonging to an audience of millions.

Each blast of the horns was followed by the crash of loud cymbals.

Susan watched the cymbals rise once more in the hands of monks and almost laughed for the exuberance of the noise that was to follow. It was a noise to clear the mind, to beat back demons, to smash away decorum.

The third blast from the horns faded. The monks tensed their outstretched arms. Susan focused on Drakpa Rinpoche to see if he would react to their crashing sound. He liked loud noise. On the film set the previous summer he had smashed sticks onto the skin of a drum with the enthusiasm of a typical young boy.

The cymbals crashed.

On the roof of the truck, Hu squeezed a trigger.

The crack of the rifle was unnoticed in the din. The hole it created was barely visible through the crimson robes. The boy's shout was inaudible. Simply a gust of shocked breath. He could hold himself upright no more. His head cracked against the chair’s back as he slumped.

Susan's chair crashed into the aisle. She was three steps toward the podium before Drakpa's head slumped to cover the wound in his chest. She was into the frame of the video camera before a security guard could grab a hold of her arm. Other guards, burly Tibetans dressed in dark suits with white shirts and plain ties, raised the Dalai Lama by the elbows and swept him from the podium.

Remaining members of the security force crushed Susan close to the boy before easing her away.

Drakpa’s eyes registered the swirl of movement, light and color. They never blinked, never flickered. They were the eyes of a dead boy.

 

 

Chapter Two: Inside the Lair

 

Mark Rider’s five-wheeled executive chair sped round the oval desk in the center of his private office. In this penthouse on New York’s Park Avenue, blinds at the windows shut out the view. Colors passed across Rider’s face, reflections from a bank of TV screens and monitors assembled on the desk.

Streams of figures from the world’s financial markets marked the pulse of his fortune. Those figures did not interest him now.

The drama in New Mexico was still peaking, but Rider had snatched the film sequence he needed. Speed was vital, but even so he ran the boy lama’s murder in slow motion, not once but three times. He needed to be sure he had the best freeze-frame possible near the moment of impact.

There. He got it. Ideal.

It was the perfect image. The kid showed no internal reaction. His face was clear of expression but for the bright round bulge of his eyes. There’s no horror more sweet than the shock of pain in a young child’s eyes. The hole thumped into his chest was still clean of blood. An instant earlier, he was alive. An instant later he would be dead.

On Rider’s TV screen the live transmission showed the crowd. They were present at the cusp of history yet many had missed the action. Some jumped up for a clearer view while others pulled them down. Rider was thousands of miles away, yet he knew more than anyone on the scene.

 He dialed through to the control center for GTN, Galaxy Television’s news channel.

“You’re getting this relay from Santa Fe? That boy monk, Drakpa, we’ve been following?”

“I see panic, that’s all. What’s happened?”

“Assassination. Our little star’s dead. Go live …”

“We’re mid segment.”

“Kill it. Go live. Ambient audio till a reporter’s in place. I’m sending through a still now.” He tapped commands into the keyboard. “Two minutes old. You got it yet?”

“It’s downloading.”

“Go straight to transmission. This image left of screen, live action to right. Point of impact, shot of boy. It’ll give the rest context.”

“Poor kid,” the voice on the phone said as the image came through.

“Yes,” Rider said, and sagged.

A TV in the corner was tuned to GTN. Rider watched the image he had captured fill the left of the screen. It’s odd how some things don’t hit you till you see them on TV.

He broke his phone connection to the control room. If he spoke again now, his voice might break into a sob. He didn’t want that.

 

 

Dallas, 1963, and JFK mouthed his famous last words to his wife live on film.

“Take off the glasses, Jackie.”

She did so. The president was right. She looked better. The most dramatic news footage of the century, the handsome young president gunned down as he waved from his motorcade, was choreographed and costumed to perfection. Murder scenes were gruesome, but Jackie Kennedy’s fashionable presence had contributed a guiding rule for producers of the future. To render murder scenes acceptable for family audiences, promote a beautiful woman into the frame. Allow some blood to smudge her dress, and the horror scene became a dramatic backdrop for pathos. A bloody mess could then be transmitted with all the stature of a tragedy.

As the story in Santa Fe was playing itself out, Rider watched the screen and assessed it. The footage would certainly have its place in history. It was way up there. And exclusive. Broadcast journalism got no bigger than this.  Yet still it lacked something. The death of a kid, even a foreign kid, would play for a week. Then viewers would dry their eyes and move on in search of something new to entertain them. The story would go flat. It needed more.

Rider was on automatic pilot. His finger bounced a number on a keypad. Inside a truck on a London street, a phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Rider here.”

A sunny afternoon in New Mexico. Rider in New York. A rainy evening in London. The link was made.

“Mr Rider?”

“The same. You’re watching GTN?”

“That poor kid. Makes you want to weep. You’ve got kids, Mr Rider?”

This was the wrong question. You didn’t stick a finger on Rider’s sore points. He had no kids. A kid of his own was the big unfulfilled desire of his life.

“You think you need kids of your own to react when a kid is shot?”

“No Mr Rider …”

“Your heart can’t ache if you’re not a parent?”

“No Mr Rider …”

“You’ve got kids?”

“Two. Little ones. A boy and a girl.”

“Are you rich?”

“No Mr Rider …”

‘You’re not rich, you’ve got a little boy and girl relying on you, and you don’t give a damn about keeping your job? What sort of father are you?”

“My job?”

“You’re a producer. You’re working. On one of the most important nights of your professional life. Yet you’ve got time to sit there watching TV. Tell me, is there anything else worth watching on those screens of yours? What are you covering?”

“A speech. Michael Carver. Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer?”

“You think I don’t know who the man is?”

“I just thought … I didn’t know…”

“What’s he up to?”

“He’s making a speech. On the free trade model as evidenced by business to business sales over the internet."

“Cosmic. He’s nearly finished?”

“Let me see. He’s summing up I think. Yes. It’s done. They’re applauding. The chancellor’s smiling straight to camera.”

“Is there to be a reception in the building afterward?”

“We expect him to leave the hall immediately and return straight to Downing Street.”

“Then grab him. We’re going live. With a link. Do you see what’s happening now?”

“Where?”

“On your TV monitor, you fool. On GTN’s live broadcast.”

“I turned it off. You said …”

“Turn it back on … You’ve done that? Now do you see?”

“Yes sir.”

“You recognize that woman?”

“Susan Groves. The actress.”

“Well done. You’ve recognized one of the most recognizable women on this planet. You may have a future with Galaxy yet. We’re on standby in Santa Fe. The crew’s ready. We just need the chancellor that end. On film. Within the next three minutes. You can do it?”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Do better than that. Do a father’s best. Your kids are relying on you.”

 

 

Rider shifted his chair so that his skin reflected the live relay from inside the tent in Santa Fe. Bodies standing and running in front of the lens kept blocking out the light. It didn’t matter. Chaos made for good TV. He just needed one clear shot.

Got it.

He switched between monitors again to increase the size of the central image. Intensified the colors. The red of blood could look so dull, even against white. Rider brightened it.

A quick flick around the keyboard and the image was transmitted. It reappeared on a screen in a broadcast truck on a London street, then reeled out on paper from the printer. Moments later, the ink still drying, it was outdoors, protected from the rain by an umbrella.

In Santa Fe the crew was pulling out the stops at last. A camera added its own momentum to the drama, speeding past a tangle of legs and overturned chairs.  They had shifted to a handheld. The camerawoman was climbing on a chair. For a moment Rider’s TV filled with an image of the crowns of people’s heads, then focused on a clear view of the dais.

The Dalai Lama was off stage right. His feet had stumbled as his guards whisked him away. A guard took hold of his legs and they carried him off. Men surrounded Drakpa, shielding him from view. That was fine by Rider. Monks were of passing interest for the public. He wanted stars. And he had one in his sights.

Rider watched the screen as he spoke instructions to London and New Mexico, linking those two worlds. Susan stood onstage in Santa Fe and seemed to watch him back, gazing out from the TV screen. Till now she had kept her back to camera, turning just twice to look for help then staring at the cluster around Drakpa once again. Her body was stooped, her hands pressed against her sides.

Now she turned. She straightened. The lens of the handheld gave her focus.

The audience found her. She was the still point where everything else was turning. Susan’s professional instincts kicked in. The audience was watching her. She had to respond in some way. It was hard. She was numb but not calm. She had nothing to calm them with.

She searched among the faces in the crowd, looking for ones that were friendly. She found none. They weren’t looking at her somehow. Not at her face. Their heads were turned her way, but she met none of their eyes. They were looking lower.

She bent her head to see what was wrong.

The white cotton of her Dior frock was smeared red. She reached for the color with her hands, and found the same red coated her fingers and palms. She looked out again at the audience.

Now she recognized their look. It was horror.

“It’s not me,” she mouthed.

No-one heard her. She stepped up to the microphone.

“It’s not me,” she said again.

Too close to the microphone now, her words were fed back as a squeal that amplified through the speakers. Susan jumped back from the noise herself. That was stupid. She had learned microphone technique.

“It’s not me,” she said again, at the right distance from the mike this time. “I’m fine. It’s not my blood. It’s Drakpa’s. They killed Drakpa.”

Her blooded hand reached out to point toward the boy. The movement felt false. She was playing this wrong. She wasn’t inside the role. Her voice as she heard it from the speakers was too tight. Someone should shout ‘Cut!’ They must shoot the scene again. Pain pulled at her muscles, scraped her insides, and sucked at her breath till she was gasping.

A large woman in a gray suit moved into the frame. Ginger stretched an arm around Susan’s shoulder to support her.

Raincoats like shadows crossed a different monitor on Rider’s desk, clearing a view of two large double doors as they opened. This was London. The chancellor came out onto the steps, an aide with an umbrella preparing to shield him on the walk of a few steps to his waiting Jaguar. A reporter stepped toward him.

“Chancellor …”

Good man, Rider noted.

“Go live,” he instructed the GTN control room.

The chancellor glanced at the reporter and prepared to walk away.

“Do you have any comments on the tragedy involving Susan Groves?”

Quiver of the chancellor’s jowls. Eyes flaring wide.

“We’ve a picture, sir. A print-out from the live transmission.”

The chancellor stepped forward to take it. The microphone caught the sound of raindrops striking the paper as he held it out. He looked at the picture of Susan, her face a mask of blankness as her body half-turned toward the camera, blood on her hands and her dress. The paper turned sodden and limp in his hand.

“What’s happened?”

“Assassination, sir. A shooting in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Miss Groves is at the heart of it. One dead so far. A Tibetan boy lama. Unknown wounded. We have a live transmission, sir. Running on a monitor in the van.”

The chancellor pushed past his security to enter the broadcast truck. He found the transmission monitor at once, and studied the picture for signs of Susan.

“We can link you, sir,” the reporter offered, and dialed into a phone pad linked directly through a computer mounted on the wall. He passed the receiver to the chancellor, who took it and held it to his ear.

“Furlong,” a female voice answered.

“Who?”

“Furlong. Amanda Furlong.”

The chancellor tracked her onscreen, the only woman with a mobile pressed to her ear.

“Auburn hair cut close to your head? Severe black suit with plunging neckline?”

“Who is this?” the woman snapped.

“Carver. Michael Carver. Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer. Phoning from London. I’m watching the live feed. I can see you. See you both. Please move to your left, Ms Furlong. Two yards. And hand the phone to the woman you find there. Susan Groves. Please put me on to Susan Groves.”

Amanda Furlong almost dropped the phone in her hurry to pass it across.

“Susan?”

No need for Rider to wheel between monitors any more. He watched the live GTN transmission. Split-screen, Oscar-winning Susan Groves on the left, Britain’s chancellor, the number two man in his government, on the right.

“Michael?” That strong, familiar voice of hers, now tremulous. “Michael? They’ve killed him, Michael. They’ve killed Drakpa.”

“There’s blood on you, Susan.”

She wiped her free hand down the side of her dress, leaving a fresh trail of blood.

“His blood,” she said, and her face creased into tears of grief. She wasn’t holding the phone to her ear any more, but Michael could still hear her sobbing.

The camera filmed him passing over the phone and hurrying down the truck’s steps into the London rain. It watched his car speed off through the night on the few minutes journey to his official residence at 11 Downing Street.

Susan had dropped the phone. Rider watched Amanda Furlong bend to pick it up, while the woman in gray he now knew to be Susan’s agent urged Susan off the stage.

Rider slapped the flat of his hand against the desk.

Live news relay of the decade!

In years to come he would savor it more. Right now Galaxy had the sole, spectacular momentum.

He would chase this story till it bled.

 

 

Chapter Three: Way To Go

 

First Ginger was impressed.

Then she felt abandoned.

Then useless and annoyed as her watch showed the 18.05 Southwest flight direct from Albuquerque to LAX leaving without her.

Then upset that she could be so selfish.

Then selfish.

It was okay for Susan to sit there on the meditation cushion she just happened to have waiting in the back of her car … and had the nerve to ask Ginger to go and fetch. It was splendid she could hold her body so perfectly poised and still for so long. But while Susan might be employing some Buddhist tricks of breathing and chanting to clear herself of unwanted emotions, violent moods heaved themselves around Ginger’s body like a force ten gale.

“Honey,” she murmured.

Was disturbing a meditator like waking a sleepwalker, something you mustn’t ever do?

Heck, at least sleepwalkers gave you something to watch. This endless sitting was more boring than a season of German Expressionist movies. She lay a hand on Susan’s shoulder, and spoke more loudly.

“Honey, this woman’s dry as a bone. I need a drink.”

Susan stayed poised, but lifted a hand to rest it on Ginger’s.

“We must sit,” she explained. “It’s the practice. Sit where Drakpa died, for three days, and help him through the afterlife.”

“So where’s the Dalai Lama?”

“He’ll be back.”

“So will you, my dear. But it’s time to take a break right now. Come on. On your feet.”

Susan brought her hand down to her lap, and continued to sit.

“It’s growing peaceful at last,” she said. “Don’t you feel it?”

An old monk sat by Drakpa’s body where it was laid out on a trestle table. The man’s lips moved while he read from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, instructions for Drakpa to follow as he surged through the afterlife crossing Bardo after Bardo. Ginger couldn’t hear the old monk’s voice above the drone of the air conditioning unit that had been wheeled in to keep the corpse cool. A smaller tent was ordered, and would be set around the scene. The fatal bullet had passed straight through the boy’s body and been recovered. A doctor had verified the death, and the coroner agreed to wait the ritual three days before the autopsy. In accord with the customs of his religion, his body would remain where it had died and be disturbed as little as possible till then.

It had been a busy few hours of hard negotiation. Now things were settled. It was indeed more peaceful.

“I sense him. He’s here,” Susan said.

 

 

I’m here, Drakpa said, but the sense of I and the sense of here had been smashed through a hole in time. He worked to set the sequence of events in order.

It was no good. Death is life set in reverse. Take a raindrop, pull it from a landscape and suck it into a cloud, that’s an image for how death starts. Then pull the cloud through the stratosphere and smash into a star.

No wants. No gains. Completion. Such is death.

The old monk chanted scriptures, a road map to guide the dead boy through the Tibetan afterlife, but that was no help. That only worked for those who sought to escape the round of birth and rebirth. They were directions to an eternity subsumed by light. They were no use for beings like him who had vowed to return, again and again, till all beings had been led into the light.

If Drakpa were to find his way back, as he must, as he had long since vowed, he had to retrace his way along the route of death. He had to turn and go back; like a boy following a line of pebbles that he had laid on the ground to mark a new route through a forest.

He found his first pebble. It was a trace of heat. Not the searing heat of a bullet screeching through a young boy’s chest. More like the heat a dim lamp gives to a cold room, felt from afar.

It was a memory of heat.

Such was the beginning of his passage toward rebirth: the trace of a memory of heat.

He had found the memory though had lost the mind to which it belonged. This fact set him spinning. He recognized the spinning as movement. First came heat. Now came movement. The white blaze that contained him spiraled into funnels of cloud. He was everywhere, yet traveling.

First came heat, then movement, and now came direction. The whites of the funnels of cloud gained shadow, and these shadows merged into blackness. Through this blackness burst veins of red.

His journey back through his passage of death had now given him color. Color gave him sight. The burst of red brought a recollection of blood. Fast behind that came pain.

Searing pain, as his soul squeezed back inside the scrap of his heart that had emerged on the tip of the bullet.

The pain was a pain of fire that streamed with blood.

Then the pain was gone. In its place came wonder. Drakpa had seeped from the passageway of fire to merge with the organs of his young boy’s body. He felt the kick in the toes as the feet flipped upwards. He felt the strain in the muscles of each eye as corpuscles burst in their vision.

From wonder he passed to a state of love.

Love for this young boy’s body that had ferried his soul through eight years.

Love for the qualities of life in a body.

Let it stop here, he asked. His journey back through the stages of his death was complete. He was back in his body. No bullet had struck. If he must choose some state of being in which to live through all eternity, then he chose this radiance of love.

Sorry Drakpa. You’ve made your choice. You’ve chosen the human condition. You’re back in the stream of time. You can’t stay in this body any longer. It isn’t yours. You have to seek a new one now.

Out, Drakpa.

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