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    Extract

    Chapter 1(i)

    He thought at first that it was a trick of the light, a reflection, perhaps, or a large rock below the surface of the water. The river was flatter there, a horseshoe curved pool in the shadow of the mountain. He did not say anything: his father was preoccupied with fishing, and never spoke much in the morning, anyway. Instead the boy sat and waited, watching as the sun rose, and the submerged mass became gradually more distinct. For a while he teased himself: perhaps it was a whale or a submarine. But he was ten years old and knew better. There were no whales or submarines in the mountains of Slovakia.
    Next to him his father cast, wound and recast his rod. The boy had begged to be brought along on this expedition and the father had reluctantly agreed. It had rained so much that week, and they had spent too much time inside: the boy wanted something to remember when they went home to the city. But they had been off early, and it had been a long walk down through the pine woods into the valley after leaving the car. Now the boy was bored, and he glanced at his father, guilty at such disloyal thoughts.
    At last, too restless to sit longer, the boy got up and began to wander around the wide corner of the river. Upstream, his father had told him, the water was fast flowing and treacherous where floods raced through narrow gorges, but here the flow had eased and was now beginning to form ripples around the submerged object. It could, of course, be a lost, sunken spaceship.
    Out of sight of his father the boy felt brave enough to paddle, and, stepping into the water, he edged closer: it was something strange and out of place, long and smooth and still. For some moments he stood in his gum boots and stared, and then, treading carefully, began to make his way around the curve of the river. With the sun behind him the object soon began to look quite different.
    Suddenly he knew. The outline was that of a car, but of a size the boy had never seen before: a strange, wide vehicle, perhaps eight metres in length, lying at a sharp angle and tilted up towards the bank.
    A car? It didn’t seem possible. The nearest track was several kilometres away, up the mountain and through dense forest. How could anyone have put a car here?
    Very carefully, and using a dead branch to prod the river bed as he went, he waded deeper into the water. The vehicle was lying on a bank of sand, and with the fine day the level of the water had been falling, its sediment clearing, all morning.
    Putting his face close to the surface he stared hard at the car. It was indeed like a spaceship, with a flat, wedged nose and banks of broken headlights. Edging sideways he looked again. Now he could see a tyre, further on a windscreen. Another two steps took him close to one of the side windows, but this time he was not at first sure what he was seeing. Objects were floating in the goldfish bowl which was the interior---a cigarette packet, the wrapping for a chocolate bar, a wine glass, a plastic folder, a man's shoe, a wad of paper; but there was something else, shimmering and moving like a sea plant caught in the current.
    For a moment he raised his eyes and rested them from the glare of the water. Then, very carefully, he looked again. Now he could see: it was hair, long and trailing like a bridal veil; a woman, floating under water, one arm up as though in some vain swimming motion, her cheeks sunken, her mouth open, her eyes staring directly into his.
    In panic the boy stepped back to balance himself: water splashed over the tops of his gum boots. "Father!" he called quietly, almost secretly, his voice catching, breathless. Then he snatched his head back. "Father! Father!"
    The boy's scream lifted off the surface of the river and echoed around the little wooded valley.

    (ii)

    Charlie Holyoake stared at the patterns in the cornice above him, listening hard. The sounds were unmistakable. Two people were making love in a nearby room. He wondered if one of them was Belinda. Unhappily, his eyes traced the corner of the ceiling where the elaborate floral plasterwork abruptly ended. That was the trouble when once stately rooms in once stately homes were sub-divided on the cheap: the sound-proofing was always hopeless.
    With an oath and a muffled mew, which was not, he decided, in any way familiar, the storm of passion abated in an exhaust of moans. He was relieved. To have heard Belinda making love would have been too much to bear.
    But should it? He turned his head. Next to him a pretty girl lay sleeping. Her name was Agnieszka. She was Polish and had once wanted to be an actress. Now she worked as a stand-in for the most spoilt woman in the world. He wondered if he was in love with her. He didn't know. And he thought again about Belinda, picturing her smiling at him as she had done on those sleepy mornings. She had always had the prettiest smile. He closed his eyes. It seemed so long ago. How did he feel about her now? He wasn't even sure about that any more.
    He was thirty and these days uncertain of everything---a thin, fair, short-sighted Englishman who had had an idea, just a small idea, and then watched as it had grown and mutated and won control of all their lives. That was when he and Belinda had begun to fall apart. Silently he sighed. Love and movies: a one-handed, blindfolded juggling act. Too difficult even for Belinda.
    He looked at his watch. It was nearly twelve. They had slept through the morning; but then, virtually the entire cast and crew would be having a lie-in, too. A mass lie-in or a mass lay-in? He played with the words, pondering whether this eighteenth century Polish mansion, the Kapolska Palace, had ever before been host to such batteries of well organised adultery.
    Sex was important to everyone, but to movie people it was an occupational obsession. Movie people knew about sex. They were diviners for it, scholars of it, gluttons for it. The first day of location shooting on any movie was virtually the declaration of an open season when it came to sex; Steven Spielberg had once said something like that, and Shadows On A Wall was hardly any movie. Perhaps nervous exhaustion had something to do with it, or boredom, or simply the many months of insane extravagance, but, as the budget, and the way-over budget, had risen to ever more startling heights, so had the sexual energy of almost the entire company. Without doubt, Shadows On A Wall was an extraordinarily tumescent production, and he tried to calculate just how many couplings would already have taken place in the Kapolska Palace that morning. At least, he told himself, it took his mind off Belinda, off the movie...
    He stopped there. No it didn't. Nothing took his mind off the movie.
    He considered the girl next to him. She was breathing softly, curled up, her arms crossed over palely freckled breasts, her face almost perfectly triangular in shape, her light hair spreading across the pillow. Such a pretty girl, Agnieszka. Agnes. It sounded better in Polish. And he wondered if she loved him.
    He hoped not, but how could he tell? How could she tell? How could any of them tell anything? They were in the middle of a gigantic fiasco---a grand folly of unprecedented, imperial proportions. "Shadows On A Wall: Shooting Just Goes On And On And On And...", a headline had run without exaggeration in the The Hollywood Reporter the previous week. In a disastrous campaign like this how could anyone have any judgement left? Shadows On A Wall was a blindfolded rhinoceros of a movie, a runaway, trotting wilfully across Europe, a hundred million dollar production caught up and entangled on a giant tusk of ego.
    And yet..? He knew it was madness, but he couldn't stop hoping. Shadows On a Wall was the best idea he had ever had.
    "You know your trouble, you think too much," he imagined Belinda teasing the way she used to. "That's all you do, just lie around in beds and baths all day, thinking and hoping."
    His pride fought back: "Of course, I do. What else am I supposed to do? That's what writers do. They think and they hope."
    Putting Belinda from his mind he climbed out of bed and made his way to the tall window. There had been so much rain recently, soaking days of mud and confusion as they had tried, with the help of the Polish Army, to re-enact Napoleon's march on Moscow. If things had gone according to schedule it would have been shot the previous autumn, but nothing had gone to schedule on Shadows On A Wall. And now the Polish Army had been called away on Easter manoeuvres, against what imaginary enemy he couldn't imagine.
    Pulling back the heavy, red curtains he looked out on the day. He was surprised. It was sunny, suddenly spring, and he allowed himself the luxury of imagining that things might begin to get better. A hundred million dollars better? a voice inside him mocked.
    Below him on the gravel driveway was a scattering of activity: electricians rolling cables, a couple of grips examining a damaged length of track, two costume assistants carrying a rail of gold trimmed cavalry officers' uniforms to the former stables where they had set up their ironing boards, and tall, thatch-haired Billy Yeo and his documentary makers, busy as ever, shooting the crew relaxing for his television series, The Making Of Shadows On A Wall. Nearby Gully Pepper, the unit publicist, was chatting with the German second assistant director, Markus Muller, pretending not to watch Billy filming as she had been pretending for the past six months. It was her job to make sure he filmed only what the studio considered the positive side to Shadows On A Wall, but Billy saw things differently: their's had been a long and unrelenting duel. Poor Billy, Charlie thought. After everything he did for me, I let him down.
    Looking away he gazed across the lawn to where a young girl with straight, black, shoulder length hair and large glasses was sitting on a kitchen chair, a writing pad in her hands, her pretty face shaded by the three cornered Napoleonic hat she had been given by the costume department. She would never have been his choice, but she had made the perfect Camille de Malignon.
    He stepped back from the window. With the crew on the point of mutiny shooting had been suspended for the Easter weekend. They had been filming off and on for nearly six months, often extended fourteen hour days, but the more they shot the more the director wanted; and still they were nowhere near finished. Over two million feet of film exposed and no end in sight; it didn't seem possible.
    "Bruno Messenger, you're a megalomaniacal bastard," Charlie said out loud, as he ritually said every morning, and, stepping over a small barricade of discarded rewritten pink pages of script, he went into the small bathroom and ran the bath water.
    This was the second visit of the Shadows On A Wall unit to Poland, the entire production being housed in the Kapolska Palace, a mansion in the mountains in the south east of the country where it bordered on Slovakia. Only Sam Jordan, perhaps an eccentric choice for Napoleon, but undeniably handsome, and the matchingly beautiful, if nudgingly certifiable, Yale Meredith, who was playing Marie Walewska, were not living in the palace. Being stars they had each been allocated houses of their own---two specially renovated white pavilions at opposite ends of the Kapolska estate, where they could live untroubled by anything approaching reality. In her house, Yale was surrounded by her shift-working retinue of companion, bodyguards, driver, secretary, voice coach, trainer, dresser and personal make-up artist; in his, Jordan, though he had just as many minions to call upon, lived in the vain isolation that some called mystery. No one, other than the women selected for sex, got too close to Sam Jordan.
    Bruno Messenger, as director, could have demanded a house, too, but had taken instead a large suite of rooms on the first floor of the Kapolska, where he lived surrounded by his court, the cinematographer, the art director and, most importantly, his chief minister, the man doing the day to day running of the movie, Al Mutton.
    Al Mutton was not the producer of Shadows On A Wall, though he behaved as if he were: Al Mutton was the associate producer, and friend of the director. The producer, and man with overall responsibility, was Harvey Bamberg. But while Harvey Bamberg fretted about the desperate calls and faxes from the studio in California, about what attitude Familia Gallego, the co-financiers, might be about to take, about the global marketing strategy the movie would need to compensate for the albatross factor which had dogged every moment of shooting, and, most of all, about the estimated final cost of production, Al Mutton took his orders from Bruno Messenger and carried on spending. And seemingly no-one could stop them: not the studio, and definitely not Harvey Bamberg. With his pot belly, baby face, shiny scalp and vague smell of talcum powder, Harvey Bamberg was no match for these fellows.
    With a loud jangling the telephone in the bedroom rang. Turning off the bath taps Charlie went to answer it. Agnieszka, now awake, smiled as she handed him the phone. She had a perfectly guileless expression, but then she hadn't been in movies very long.
    The caller was Nathalie Seillans. She was calling from Paris. Nathalie Seillans was the wife of Harvey Bamberg, amazing though that might seem. In her day men would have done many things to please Nathalie Seillans, and Nathalie Seillans had pleased many men. This was no longer her day but, despite himself, Charlie always felt a slight blush of excitement when he found himself talking to her. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Charlie, but do you know where Harvey is? I've been calling his room for two hours."
    Charlie couldn't help. "I haven't seen him since we wrapped last night. Maybe he's just so tired he's sleeping right through the phone." That seemed possible. In recent weeks Harvey, beleagured and desperate, had been wracked with exhaustion.
    "Harvey would never sleep through a ringing telephone," Nathalie dismissed the suggestion. "He might miss a deal."
    "Perhaps he's somewhere doing a deal, or out driving... it's a nice day here..."
    "Well, yes. All right, Charlie. Perhaps if you see him you could ask him to call me."
    "Of course," said Charlie. Things had been difficult for Harvey with Nathalie recently. When she called he always ran.
    "And, Charlie, how went the monster yesterday?"
    Charlie groaned: "Oh, you know....how the monster goes every day. The more the monster gets the more the monster wants. Nothing changes. Not with Bruno Messenger, anyway. Some day we'll laugh about all this, but..."
    "Perhaps..." The producer's wife sounded doubtful, too.
    There was a moment's reflection and then they hung up. Charlie turned to Agnieszka. "If you bump into Harvey will you tell him to call Nathalie. She can't find him."
    Agnieszka nodded. Then she said: "Perhaps he's with Bruno."
    "No, he hates Bruno."
    "Yes, but he was with him last night after the shoot."
    "Are you sure?"
    "I'm sure. In Harvey's car. Penn Stadtler too, I think."
    "Penn Stadtler?" That was more than surprising. With thousands of Polish extras waiting in the rain Bruno Messenger had stopped shooting for two hours to talk to Penn Stadtler about the movie's music. No ordinary film composer would have turned up in the most remote corner of Europe to discuss music which could better be talked about in London or Los Angeles. But Penn Stadtler wasn't just a composer: he was a rock star composer.
    "Rock stars and movies," Harvey Bamberg had bitched for months, nervous of anything concerning Stadtler. "Give them a sniff and they become addicted. Who wants electric guitars and synthesisers in a movie about Napoleon, anyway?"
    Charlie hadn't answered: they had both known that Bruno Messenger did. Now he shrugged: "Oh, well, maybe that's where he is...with Bruno. You never know, perhaps Harvey will even start liking the bastard again."
    Agnieszka pulled a doubtful face and slipped further under the sheets.
    Charlie looked at her. She was a lovely girl. For a moment he hesitated, then, giving in, he slipped back into the shelter of his bed, and put Harvey Bamberg and Bruno Messenger from his mind. It was not difficult. It was a rest day, and Agnieszka was very restful. This was what movie people did on the mornings of rest days in the distant corners of Poland.

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