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Pact of the Fathers

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Pact of the Fathers

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Author: Ramsey Campbell
Publisher: Tor, 2003
Forge, 2001

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
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Daniella Logan, daughter of a film impresario, is stunned to see a group of robed men performing a ritual above the newly-turned earth of her father's grave. Daniella's father and his friends--politicians, newspaper magnates, highly-paid actors, top-flight surgeons, high-ranking police officials, and many more--are bound by an unholy blood pact that calls for the sacrifice of their first born children. Now, the more she learns, the more Daniella makes herself a target. But she must not be silenced, for she is not the only firstborn in danger, only the oldest.



The smile the young receptionist behind the steel-grey horseshoe of a desk offered Daniella was by no means purely professional. "Can I help?" he said.

"I want to go up and surprise my dad."

"I'd like that if I were him, but you'll need to tell me who he is."

"Teddy Logan."

"Mr Logan." The receptionist lowered his head an inch to regard her under his brows, incidentally presenting her with a better view of the wet black turf of his scalp. A drop of gel glistened on the right shoulder of his collarless jacket, which was only slightly greyer than the desk. "You're his daughter," he said.

"Right so far."

"Are you planning an acting career?"

"I've done a bit. Does it show?"

"It mightn't to most people. Nice try, but you missed one detail."

"Tell me."

"Mr Logan's American, and you'd know if you heard him talk."

"You're new, aren't you?"

"Not so new I don't know how to do my job."

"He isn't going to like you doing it this hard. Why don't you call upstairs and tell him I'm here."

"Someone's pitching him an idea for a film."

"Call his secretary, then."

"You're saying you didn't know she's gone for lunch."

"Right, I didn't. Listen, you've been good, but--"

He crooked a finger until she leaned close enough for the scent of gel to oil her nostrils. "What would it be worth for me to say you took me in?"

"Not much. I'm a student."

"I don't look as if I need your money, do I? Just company for dinner."

"I've already got a boyfriend."

"Must be pretty insecure if you can't accept an invitation for a night out on the town."

She was wondering resentfully if the accusation was aimed at her when the glass doors admitted a burst of the rumble of traffic on Piccadilly before sweeping it out again. "Any messages, Peter?" the newcomer said.

"Nothing for you or Mr Logan, Miss Kerr." To Daniella he murmured "That's his secretary."

"I know. Hi, Janis."

"Hi, Daniella."

The receptionist struggled to maintain a smile as his words began to flee him. "Excuse me, Miss Kerr, this young lady isn't, that's to say, is she..."

"She's the great man's best production."

"I'm sure. Will you take Miss Logan up to him, Miss Kerr?"

"Happy to," said Janis, but stayed Daniella with a negligently half-open hand until the receptionist looked up from the clipboard he'd abruptly found interesting. "Even though she's who she is you'll need to give her a visitor's pass."

"Absolutely. I was just--" Just relieved, Daniella thought, that Janis headed for the lift without waiting for his stumble at an explanation. He shoved the visitors' book across the desk for Daniella to sign and crouched off his seat to hand her a plastic badge. "Sorry," he pleaded in a whisper.

"I believe you," Daniella said as Janis restrained the lift on her behalf. The box of mirrors full of images of Janis--tall, elegant, sallow, ebony-haired as a film in glossy monochrome--and of herself--slim enough, face too round to be really interesting, small nose that annoyed her by appearing to want to look cute, blonde hair in which last month's rust was lingering--had barely closed its doors when Janis said "Any problems with our new boy?"

Daniella remembered how she'd had to search for a summer job--how hard it was for so many people to find work. "No," she said.

Janis snapped open her suede handbag to touch up her black lipstick. "So what brings you to town?"

"I was supposed to have lunch with my mother, only one of the companies she looks after, their computers crashed this morning. I was on my way out when she called, so I thought I'd use my ticket anyway."

"I know Mr Logan will be glad you did. Stop him brooding over whatever's on his mind," Janis said as the doors revealed the London offices of Oxford Films.

A carpet greener than grass after rain led along the wide blue corridor. Framed posters from the fifties showed suited people accompanied by slogans that grew less discreet as the decade progressed, until by its end they were promising horrors in bright red before discovering sex for the sixties and seventies. Nana Babouris's face appeared on some of them, and occupied more space as the posters abandoned sex to become steadily braver and weepier. Two posters for Help Her to Live--Nana beaming as she lost a wheelchair race to her adopted daughter for the British market, Nana lifting her high above the child's chair for America--guarded Janis's door, and Daniella recalled using up a boxful of tissues when, at ten years old, she'd watched the film. She grinned wryly and dabbed at her eyes as she followed Janis into the office.

Janis sat behind her wide thin pine desk and tugged her charcoal skirt over her darkly nyloned knees as she thumbed the intercom. "Mr Logan? I thought you'd want to know your daughter's here."

His response was audible through both the speaker and the connecting door. "I'm on my way," he shouted and flung the door open to stride out, his white shirt bulging with his stomach but not quite straining at its buttons, his arms and his bright blue eyes wide, his bushy eyebrows crowding creases up his high forehead all the way to the temples that used to boast more of his grey hair. He hugged Daniella and rubbed her spine until he yanked her T-shirt out of her jeans, and she did her best to match his fierceness, however overstated she'd begun to find it recently. "Good to see you too," she gasped.

"That isn't the half of it. You're a picture." With some reluctance, as if he hadn't finished assuring himself she was there, he left off hugging her and led her by the hand into his office. "Say, you can be the audience," he said.

Beyond the window flanked by posters a bus without a roof passed soundlessly, its sightseers turning their backs on the Logans with a movement so unified it might have been choreographed to gaze across Green Park towards Buckingham Palace. Fat bags of soft black leather sprawled on the tubular frames of chairs in front of and behind her father's massive antique desk. A man with a briefcase gripped between his gleaming coaly brogues sat perched on the edge of the chair facing the desk as though he was afraid to relax. "Isaac Faber. He wants to make movies," her father said. "Isaac, meet my only child."

The man sprang up to shake her hand, nearly tripping over the briefcase, and sat again at once. His scalp was only slightly hairier than his unshaven chin. His pudgy youthful face was doing its best to be ready for whatever came next, and she felt sorry for him. Her father sat on a couch and patted the portly cushion beside him, and said as she joined him "Try and sell my daughter. She's your target audience."

"It's," Isaac Faber told her, "well, as I was saying, it's about searching for a myth."

"Who's doing that?"

"That's right. I mean, it's interesting you ask. I was thinking while you fetched your daughter, Mr Logan, it could be a knight, Arthurian, he could be. Brought to life by magic or he's been in like suspended animation till people need him again."

"That part sounds better," Daniella's father said.

"He sets out to look for others like him," Daniella was eagerly informed, "but he can't find any, so he goes searching for what people believe in like they used to believe in the Holy Grail. And he finds the world's more savage than it was the last time he was alive. The only myths left are success and wealth and power, and people will do anything to get them."

"Sounds pretty true."

"But would you pay to watch it?" her father said.

"I don't know," she had to admit.

"Sounds like no to me. There's your answer, Mr Faber, from a young lady who goes to the movies every week. People need myths to live by. That's why The Flood broke records. My daughter and her friend Chrysteen saw it twice."

He was directing a thumbs-up at the posters for the film, the ark balanced on a dripping mountain-top beneath a rainbow, the column of Oscars--best cinematography, best effects, best original song (The Engine Of My Heart: "No oars, no sails, just the engine of my heart...") all dwarfed by the image in the clouds of Shem (Daniel Ray) embracing Sarah (Nancy Hilton). "We fancy Daniel Ray," Daniella said.

"That's what movies are about, Isaac, giving people what they want, not what you think they ought to. Lots of animals and fart jokes for the kids, and romance for the ladies, and action for us men, and spectacle for the family, and wonder on top of it all to send everyone out feeling they've been somewhere they want to go back."

"I thought you might want to consider investing some of your profits in a movie that could earn you a different kind of award."

Daniella's father grew monolithically still, as he did on learning she'd behaved in some way he thought wrong. Whatever she might have dreaded he would say to Isaac Faber, it wasn't "Want to teach me about investments too?"


Copyright © 2001 by Ramsey Campbell


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