They walked into the room on a wave of rowdy catcalling
applause. Shauna tensed, grasped his arm, and whispered to him through her
hundred-watt grin--as if they were a couple of cons in a prison yard instead of
coveted, cosseted stars from Eternal Requiem, the most successful TV show
since Friends: |
“Jesus, Beck, I wish I hadn’t worn my diamonds.”
“Relax,” Beck whispered back, kissing her hair.
“They’re just kids.”
The kids whistled at the kiss, and the volume of
A stout, beaming woman bustled over to them and motioned for the kids to quiet
down. The applause tapered off, and a hundred or so faces looked up at them
“I know you’ve all been looking forward to this, and
I’m sure you’ll make Ms. Williamson and Mr. Beckett more than welcome. Now,
let’s have a moment of quiet for the grand opening! ” She handed Beck a
comically large pair of scissors and led he and Shauna over to a closed wooden
door with a red ribbon thumb tacked across it.
“We’re overjoyed to declare the Arden Grange
Drop-Internet Café… open for business!” Beck said, beaming at the crowd. He
snipped the red ribbon, and the kids roared with approval as he opened the door
and bowed with a flourish.
“Enjoy the surfing, but be careful with those machines.
Don’t forget what happened to Troy Moran.”
There were more laughs and whoops. A few of the girls
wrinkled their noses in mock distaste.
Troy Moran had been one of the well-loved heroes on
Eternal Requiem, and at the end of season five he accidentally discovered
some damning evidence against Beck’s character, Vaughn Isengaard--serial
killer--during a recreational computer hacking session. Vaughn had strangled
him (almost decapitated him, in fact) with a length of mouse cord, in order to
shut him up.
Shauna smiled at him as the kids filed into their new café. Beck was such a
strange one. He was the most selfless, saint-like soul she had ever known. Yet
he played the vilest, most reprehensible character in the history of stage and
screen. Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates – they had nothing on Vaughn Isengaard.
Since the first season of Eternal Requiem
exploded onto the network, Beck had received thousands of death threats; more
than fifty were considered serious enough to merit him personal security on the
show’s payroll whilst each season was on air. He attracted antagonism and
aggression almost everywhere he went.
Unlike Beck, Shauna was one of the heroes from
Eternal Requiem, but even the constant worship from the obsessive fan base
scared her more than a little, especially some of the reactions to the onscreen
chemistry between her character and Beck’s. If she had to live with Beck’s
lot--the pure hatred the Vaughn Isengaard character incited--she would have quit
But Beck never grumbled. (Hell, he had even gone
against the cast plot for a group-strike when they were demanding more pay
during season three. "It sticks in my throat, guys," he had said. The average
fan probably spends more than half of his or her weekly wage buying a single DVD
box set, and we already get more per episode than they do in a year. He made
them remember that they were lucky, privileged. Made them feel grasping, and
shamed them into submission; Shauna included. As things turned out, the strike
wasn’t necessary anyway--the cast all got a bonus and a hefty hike after season
three wrapped, and at the end of each season thereafter.)
Not only did Beck uncomplainingly put up with his lot,
he also did good things for people, and tried to use his status to make a
difference. He always made a selfless gesture, with strictly no publicity, as
soon as the latest season was in the bag.
Last year it had been the sound and light hall for
disabled kids, and those with learning difficulties. This year--just two weeks
after wrapping season nine--it was the Internet café at the drop in centre for
underprivileged kids: twenty five of the latest PCs, monitors and printers, five
new consoles and wide screen TVs (plus a hundred or so games) the gleaming,
canteen-standard cappuccino machine, not to mention a set of funky crockery--God
only knew how much it had set Beck back.
Shauna fingered her diamond earrings guiltily as she
looked at the kids-- their enraptured faces. Beck the benefactor, Beck the good
guy; he had really come through for them.
“I love you, Beck,” she said softly. Beck smiled into
her eyes and kissed her nose.
“I love you too, honey. What say we go and grab a
couple of steaks and a good bottle of red? Maybe later we can do a little, ah,
surfing, of our own.”
Shauna laughed and took hold of Beck’s arm. The kids didn’t notice as they
Their car was idling outside--the driver smoking a cigarette, his cap on the
dash--and Beck strode forward to get the door for Shauna. As he gently shut it
after her, he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned. It was a middle-aged lady,
clasping her handbag before her like a shield.
“I knew it was you,” she said. Beck started to smile, and she spat full in his
face. He instinctively closed his eyes, felt the warm drool slide down the
planes of his cheeks. When she spoke again, her voice was loaded with so much
venom that Beck was glad he wasn’t looking at her.
“I hope you rot in Hell, you murdering scum.”
Beck wiped his eyes and watched her walk away, shooting mistrustful glances back
over her shoulder, as if she fully expected him to lunge after her and rip out
her throat. Shauna wound the window down and grasped his forearm.
“Oh, love,” she said. He smiled at her, and his smile was full of warmth and
“It’s fine. God knows, I’m used to it by now.” He got in the car, and they
Over dinner, they got the other end of the scale, which was as good as it ever
got for Beck.
Their waitress approached the table to take their wine order with shaking hands
and blank fear in her eyes. She wouldn’t look at Beck at all and deflected his
natural charm almost reflexively… however, as the courses progressed, his
charisma began to filter through, and by the time they were ordering their
after-dessert coffees, she was truly bowled over.
“I can’t believe you’re so nice,” she said (for about the gazillionth time,
Shauna thought, a touch pettishly). She was completely confounded by the
unquestionable truth of Beck’s niceness; she was like a dieter who has been told
by a Weight Watchers official that cream cakes and chocolate don’t actually
contain any calories at all. Beck just smiled at her, and when they left he
gave her a warm hug, and a tip that was probably more than she earned in a
“Do you want to go for a dance, honey? We haven’t had a chance to hit that new
Salsa club yet,” Beck said to Shauna as they went to the car.
“Christ, no. I just want to go home,” Shauna said. “If we see one more fan
today, I’ll be forced to test out those moves I had learn for the big showdown.”
Beck laughed and assumed a Muay Thai stance. “That’s my kick-ass girl.
Gracious to the end.”
“Hard to be gracious when some old bitch is spitting in my boyfriend’s face. Or
fawning over him because it’s finally hit home that he isn’t a serial killer”
“Ah, Shaunie… you know it was really Vaughn’s face she was spitting in.”
“Yeah, Beck, but that’s cold comfort when it’s you who has to wipe it off.”
Beck shrugged noncommittally and pulled Shauna to him, awkward--as always--with the concept of badmouthing a fan - even a crazy fan.
“Speaking of spit, let’s go home and swap some.”
“Beck!” Shauna laughed, and kissed him full on the lips. Let him be evasive,
she thought. In three days, they were vacationing in New Zealand for three
months. Just enough time to recharge their batteries before shooting started on
season ten--the last ever season of Eternal Requiem.
Vaughn Isengaard would be laid to rest forever (the writers had penned a graphic
and deliciously controversial death-row scene for his kill-off), and good
riddance to him. Maybe this time next year, Beck would be reading a script for
the role of a hotshot cop, or a lawyer-with-morals, and he would finally get the
adulation he so richly deserved.
She snuggled into Beck on the plush backseat of their car, closed her eyes as he
chatted animatedly with their driver. She would sleep until they got home, and
Beck could wake her as he always did, with a kiss.
In the few moments leading up to Beck’s death, he was struck by how prosaic the
circumstances were. The whole event seemed like a well orchestrated but
predictable scene from an action film, or a particularly dramatic TV ad: The
skateboarding kid sweeping thoughtlessly across the intersection. Their driver
shouting shit and slamming on the brakes. Shauna’s half-dozing eyes flying open
as if her eyelids were cartoon roller blinds… then widening in horror as she
looked past Beck to their right. The guttural honnnnnk of the looming
eighteen-wheeler as it tried to brake, and the hopeless screech of all those
tires as it careened toward them. The empty click, click of the solenoid as
their driver frantically tried to restart the car.
Beck saw all this clearly, as if these final moments from his life were
projected on a fifty-foot screen, and he was sat in an audience, fists clenched
with anticipation, munching on popcorn and certain that the good guys would get
out of danger in the nick of time.
He had time to think: it’s like déjà vu. It’s like a bad case of déjà vu.
Then the big rig blasted into them, and he thought no more.
Beck awoke to a feeling of incredible heat, and a stranger’s face swimming above
him like a carnival balloon, and he thought for a moment he’d made it through
the crash--somehow, he’d made it through--and this was a fireman trying to cut
him from the burning wreckage. Then he saw that the stranger’s face was livid
red, and there were lethal horns jutting from the brooding forehead.
“Vaughn Isengaard! I’m pleased to meet such a creative master of cruelty,” the
stranger said. He stuck out a hand that looked like a trick-or-treat glove and
pumped Beck’s heartily.
Beck’s mouth gaped open. When would the obsessives learn where to draw the line
at failing to distinguish between he and his character on Eternal Requiem?
Vaughn-goddamned-Isengaard, ruthless serial killer, hated by millions. Beck had
been wiping spit off the face he shared with Vaughn Isengaard for almost ten
years without complaint, but the fawning admiration of this--(freak? weirdo?)--hit a deeper nerve. Vaughn Isengaard was a monster and he deserved to be
despised by obsessive fans, but to be praised by one?
“I’ve been in a serious accident, pal. This is the last thing I need.” He
wrenched his hand away and glared into the stranger’s yellow eyes. “Where am
I, and where’s Shauna?”
“Don’t be coy, Vaughn. You’re where you should be and Shauna’s where she should
“My name is Beck. Steven Beckett.” Beck spat. “Vaughn Isengaard is a fictional
character. He does not exist. Now where the fuck am I and what the fuck have
you done with my girl?”
“You don’t need to pretend any more, Vaughn. People like you thrive here. You
don’t need the Beck persona to avoid apprehension any longer. Or the acts of
charity--a nice touch, I’ve always thought. But you’ll never need to waste
your time pretending to care--currying favour with the scum of the earth--ever
again. Not here.” The stranger dropped Beck a leering wink. Beck’s head swam,
and faintness rose before his eyes like digital smoke.
He stood up and looked around him. He was in a circular room with one window.
Out of the window, an inferno raged. He peered over the sill and took in the
infinity of fire; it broiled to the horizon like a stormy, molten sea.
The stranger laid a proprietary hand on his shoulder.
“I know you’ll enjoy your work here, Vaughn. You and I can work closely
together. You’re probably already bursting with ideas for the torture sector.”
Beck spun and looked at the stranger. Looked up at him--he was at least seven
“Where is this?” he whispered--so quietly it was as if his throat wanted to
hold the question to ransom.
“Why Vaughn!” the stranger cried. “This is Hell, of course! And welcome.
Welcome to you, Vaughn Isengaard. My newest soldier, my most valuable soldier.”
And he clutched Beck to him in a corporate-buddy hug. The stranger, who wasn’t
a stranger at all.
Beck--who had been fielding Vaughn Isengaard’s death threats for almost ten
years--tried to swallow the enormity of what faced him; he had heard the old
curse so many times it had almost lost its meaning, but now it struck his heart
with the finality of a coffin lid thumping shut. Go to Hell, you murdering
filth. Burn in Hell. Rot in Hell. He was finally where they wanted him.
And the Devil was a fan.