Unnatural justice ob 7, p.1

Unnatural Justice ob-7, page 1

 part  #7 of  Oz Blackstone Series

 

Unnatural Justice ob-7
 


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Unnatural Justice ob-7


  Unnatural Justice

  ( Oz Blackstone - 7 )

  Quintin Jardine

  Quintin Jardine

  Unnatural Justice

  Do I have your attention?

  Good.

  Are you prepared to hear me out, without making any judgements until my story is finished?

  Even better.

  Do you have everything you need? Tea? Coffee? Or perhaps something stronger? (Before I'm finished you may wish for it.) You're ready? Fine, then come close, for this story of mine isn't something I'd want anyone overhearing.

  The world is populated by spirits, you know, and some of them aren't very nice at all. The fact is, they can be downright evil…

  One.

  "Nobody's perfect. Still, I've always thought of myself as a nice guy at heart."

  He was smiling when he said it, that same old all-gathering smile of his; all teeth and glisten at first glance, but look really close and you may see the maw of the beast. His eyes had that shine beyond twinkle; they dazzled like the sun, a journalist once wrote, but she'd have been nearer the mark if she'd said they were as bright as the flames of hell, yet as hard as the stone that builds a city.

  I looked at him and felt nothing, no emotion. Or did I? Was I simply masking my loathing? After all, that reviewer in the New York Times did say I had become a consummate actor. How was it put again? (As if I didn't know.) "Plucked from the relative obscurity of an announcer slot in a wrestling circus, Oz Blackstone's instinctive but consummate touch somehow manages to steal the movie out from under his more illustrious co-stars and sometime in-laws Miles Grayson and Dawn Phillips. Skinner's Festival is Blackstone 's breakout, his one-way ticket to the A list."

  And anyway, what's nice got to do with it, as Tina Turner almost sang?

  Isn't it said to carry with it the certainty of finishing last?

  There was a time, around ten years ago, maybe, when I was a nice guy … or so I thought I overhead someone say at a party back in life. (Looking back on it, I'm pretty sure she was actually talking about my Dad.) I wasn't, though, not really. Truth be told, if I consider objectively the way Osbert Blackstone behaved towards most of the people who cared for him, he didn't come even close to niceness. If I was forced to come up with an excuse for my attitude, I suppose I'd say that I reacted badly to my mother's shockingly early death. I took it out on my lifelong girlfriend Jan more cruelly than on anyone else. Just when everyone assumed we'd be heading for the altar, I gave her the 'let's always be loving friends' routine… at which I was to become a master … and set off on a determined campaign to shag my way through as much of Edinburgh's available female population as I could.

  Eventually, though, the Prince of Darkness put me in my place. A door opened, and Primavera Phillips stepped into my life. A simple entrance, but she might as well have been a bolt of lightning hitting me between the eyes.

  I thought she was wonderful. For the first few months after we met, when our thing was all hot and steamy, I just wanted to eat her. (Now I wish I had. Life's full of irony, eh.) I didn't question my attraction then, or try to analyse it… even though inside, I knew that I still loved Jan, who was in a new relationship of her own by that time. I reckon I understand now, though, what it was that blinded me to everything but Prim for that period.

  Cupid, that fat flying archer and model for a few million tattoos, gets much of the credit for bringing people together, but, in my humble view, almost all of it is misplaced. The real villain of the peace is the boy Narcissus.

  Remember him from your classical studies, that idiotic Greek lad who fell in love with his own reflection? Well, I reckon that's what most of us do: we are attracted essentially to ourselves. We tend to fall for people who are in our own image, physically, emotionally, and in several other ways ending in 'y'. If there were more real blondes around, in my opinion the only gentlemen who would prefer them would be naturally fair-haired themselves. As it is, however good the dye job, instinctively, we can see the roots. (I'm not being sexist here, honest. Given modern man's hair fashions, my theory cuts both ways.) Primavera is tasty, no doubt about that. She's an even better looker than her actress sister, she has a body that's as finely tuned as a Ferrari, and she has big, rarely blinking eyes, which, when they take on a bedroom look, are always backed up by action. In the instant that we met, I saw her as open, direct and lustful… just like me.

  What followed was inevitable, and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy it.

  But she has other qualities too; they live on her dangerous side.

  Behind that sensual facade, she is ambitious, scheming and manipulative. The concept of self-denial is unknown to her; her desires, carnal and material, exist only to be fulfilled, and almost invariably, they are. She isn't a bad person; I've never thought that.

  It's just that she has certain weaknesses and the insight to know, most of the time, that she lacks the moral fibre to overcome them.

  In other words, in that respect, she's just like me.

  Before we finally split, one thing that Prim and I did give each other, though, in addition to a large measure of grief, was luck. We both enjoyed comfortable family backgrounds, but separately neither of us was on track for the glamorous life, or to amass material wealth. But since our paths crossed, well, it's all just gone crazy. The luck of the devil, they say. In our cases, that is undoubtedly, and maybe even literally, true. Our first few months together saw us involved in separate escapades in Scotland, Switzerland and Spain, from which we emerged with our lives… just… and with a very significant sum of money.

  I was edging into my thirties before I took a partial tumble to myself, and before Jan tempted fate too far by taking me back. Her love, and my first awakening to the real Primavera (although sometimes I wonder whether such a person actually exists), finally drew us back together.

  Looking back, it's interesting to me that during that brief blessed period, my luck didn't change: at first. If anything it got even better, magnified by the sheer happiness of our life together. I used to wake in the morning, look at Jan's face on the pillow next to me, often smiling at whatever dream she was having, and think, "This is all too good to be true."

  I was right; we didn't know it, thank God, but our lease on bliss was very short. When I lost her and our unborn child, killed in our kitchen by a lethal washing machine, I lost something else too. It took another Janet to help me find some of it again, but that was in the future; in the immediate thereafter I was lost, angry inside, and looking for someone to take it out on. I found him to an extent, but it wasn't enough. There was nothing for me to do, it seemed, but to go back to Prim… actually I should have done anything but that, but what the hell.

  We took up more or less where we'd left off, only this time we were more overtly ambitious, and avaricious. Our luck went on; we amassed money, and in my case a public profile, without even seeming to try. My wrestling announcer job, into which I'd stumbled, led on to bigger things, and eventually encouraged Miles Grayson, Prim's actor brother-in-law, to cast me in a movie project. Naturally, I was a success, and more bookings followed; I found to my surprise that I really am an instinctive actor.

  In material terms and in career terms I couldn't do anything but win. I decided that Prim was the lucky charm from which it all flowed, so we embarked on marriage. And that was as good as it got.

  Because you see, I never loved Prim, any more than she ever loved me.

  Fairly early in our relationship we had got into the habit of deceiving each other; she was probably better at it than I was. When I eventually found out how many lovers she'd had, I was astonished… she'd had even more than me! But honestly, I can't say I was ever angry. The fact was, in emotional t
erms, I was as dead as my first wife. I gathered wealth, I used people, I had brief flings on movie projects and on wrestling trips that were forgotten about next day, but none of it excited me. None of it could extinguish the cold flame of bitterness that Jan's passing had lit in me.

  It took Susie Gantry to make me see what I was.

  One might suspect that I was drawn to her in the same way I was attracted to Primavera, but one would be wide of the mark. Susie and I started out with a single thing in common, and that was it. She had lost a partner too, in sudden shocking violence, and for a while there was the same anger within each of us. But that's as far as it went.

  Now, with the anger dissipated, in most respects we're chalk and cheese. I still keep my feelings locked up, while Susie's as volatile as they come. For all that I'm successful in what I do now, I'd never been into business, until recently. She is, and how; she runs her family construction group and she's won two out of the last four "Scottish Businesswoman of the Year' awards. I'm tall, dark and enigmatic (back to that New York Times review), she's compact, red-haired, open and fresh faced. Most of all, she is one of life's givers, whereas I fall, with no room for argument, into the taker category.

  She took me, sure, I'll admit that… on what was supposed to be my honeymoon, even… but she was still carrying her own anger then, plus she had no reason to love Prim, so I'll allow her that one.

  What happened between us wasn't like a lightning strike, as it had been with Prim. We lit a slow-burning fuse when we got it together out in Spain, but what Susie did at the same time was to open my eyes to myself. She made me look in the mirror and see the real Oz, not the happy-go-lucky harmless oaf that I thought I was. I'd been pretending to be him for so long that I'd come to believe it myself. She's the most honest person I've ever known, apart from Jan, and she made me look honestly at myself. When I did, I didn't like what I saw.

  For a while, the way I handled the new Oz was by simply dropping the pretence; I released him. I started behaving not as I thought I should, but as I really wanted to inside. A situation developed out in Spain. It was dangerous, as much so in real life as any make-believe I've ever filmed, but I dealt with it so that the good people came through while the bad guy didn't do nearly so well.

  Afterwards, I went back to work on my second movie project, and for a while, although with no genuine enthusiasm, on my marriage. There was a complication there, though. Susie was pregnant, and planning to keep the baby. That was fine by me, but I wasn't sure how to handle Prim. I was totally out of love with her by then… especially after finding her with a Spanish guy in a Barcelona hotel… but I had a career to think about. Miles Grayson, the main man in my developing movie career, was still her brother-in-law, and I wasn't prepared to piss him off, not at that stage anyway. As it turned out, Primavera saved me from any trouble by running off to Mexico with a wanker of a B-list actor. As a consolation, Miles gave me a part in a detective movie he was filming in Edinburgh.

  The contract was signed when Susie had the baby and the world found out who her father was, so he couldn't have done anything to me, but as it turned out he had no such thoughts. I was bankable in the UK and that came first with him; besides, he'd seen through Prim by then and decided he was on my side come what may.

  And then there was Janet. Happily, she looks like her mother now, but in the moment she was born she looked just like they all do, wee and pink and wrinkled and gooey. She wasn't the only one who cried like a baby in that delivery room; I put on a virtuoso performance, but for the first time in a couple of years, I wasn't acting. A lot of stuff flowed out of me with my tears, a lot of the anger that was still inside me. All at once I thought I knew what I wanted. When I dried my eyes I was left with one question: was I brave enough to go for it?

  I took it to the Oracle in Anstruther. My Dad, Macintosh Blackstone, Mac the Dentist, in my eyes the greatest man I'd ever met… and at that stage in my travels I'd met three Presidents, four Prime Ministers and seven princes… talked to me and made me believe that he hadn't bred a coward. He showed me also that maybe the ruthlessness within me hadn't always existed, that maybe it had indeed been put there by two unfair, untimely deaths, and that if it had, maybe it could be excised.

  So I went to my family; to wee Janet and her mother. I asked Susie if she fancied marrying a movie star. She looked at me as if I was daft, and then she asked me if I thought she was. She laughed out loud, like a ring of bells. "Marry you? With your track record? You slept with another woman on your honeymoon, remember," she exclaimed. I can still hear her, still see the look in her eyes.

  Then she said, "Yes." (If I'd told her I'd actually slept with two 'other women' on my honeymoon, I don't know how it would have gone, but I'm neither that brave nor that stupid.) We did the deed quietly. We thought about Skibo Castle, but decided that would attract attention, since the press stake out the local registrar for famous names on the public notification board. Instead we settled for the Roxburgh Hotel… not the one in Edinburgh, the one near Kelso… after I had finished work on my fourth movie, set in theory in north California, but filmed in reality in Vancouver, British Columbia. (If it was good enough for Mulder and Scully, it's good enough for me.) That was two years ago. Afterwards, barely a day went by without my pinching myself to make sure I was awake. I'd never imagined being really happy again, and yet I was. I no longer thought about might-have-be ens I found that I was able to forgive most of the rest of the world for Jan's death, and for my mother's. I barely thought about Primavera any more. All I had time for was Susie and Janet, and in the right proportions too, if you get my drift. What I'm saying is that I realised that Susie wasn't just Janet's mother. She had found her own mansion in my heart, one that was alone unto itself, and not reliant on anyone else. I love her, no strings attached: I just love her.

  We got on with our lives without either of us asking any sacrifice of the other. Susie continued to run the Gantry Group, and I continued to make my movies, not because we needed the money, but because those were our jobs. She employed people, and so did I, indirectly. I put bums on seats in cinemas, I sold newspapers, I even advertised a very classy range of Scottish designer knitwear.

  Then there was Roscoe Brown, my Hollywood agent, who was living up to his reputation as the smartest new guy on the Strip, and earning every dollar of his cut with the work he was lining up for me. The only limits I gave him were a gap of at least a month between projects… many actors would give their back teeth (never their front ones, obviously) for so short a break between engagements… and first class air travel back to Scotland wherever in the world I was and whenever the shooting schedule allowed.

  When the Vancouver project, a period piece about early settlers, was over, Skinner's Rules, the Edinburgh cop-flick I'd made for Miles Grayson, was ready for release. It was a smash, world-wide, so big that after two days on release Miles took up his option on the follow-up, Skinner's Festival, and re-signed all the original cast. He didn't blink at all when Roscoe asked for above-title billing for me alongside him and Dawn Phillips, and he agreed to his financial pitch on the spot. I knew why; my character, Chief Inspector Andy Martin, is one of the key figures in the story. The role merited top billing.

  We shot it in September… the city would have been just too crowded in August, when the real Edinburgh Festival was on. For me it was great; it meant that I could commute from Glasgow on a virtually daily basis for the six weeks of shooting, bonus quality time with Susie and Janet. From the start I knew how good it was going to be, and how good I was going to be too. It was my seventh movie… after Vancouver I had done one in the South of Italy (in which I had an almost nude scene with an actress whom ten years before I'd fancied like crazy; an odd and slightly scary experience) and another in Hollywood… and there was no hesitancy left in me. I knew what I was doing, I no longer felt out of place on set, and I had an acting coach to rub off my rough edges.

  Even before it was released I knew I had made it in my own right as a
performer, finally and irreversibly. I knew how good I'd been, especially in Andy's huge emotional scene at the end. I was pretty sure that the old, cold, angry Oz wouldn't have been able to do that.

  I'd like to say that there wasn't a trace of him left, but, in my new spirit of honesty, I can't. In a few months he would make a return appearance, angrier, more ruthless and a lot more calculating. But I'll get to that in due course.

  Two.

  For that time, though, life continued as what passed for Susie and me as normal. I went back to work shooting Skinner's Festival, Miles Grayson in the lead, Dawn typecast as his wife, Scott Steele as the old chief constable, randy Rhona Waitrose as Miles's screen daughter, Alexis, and Liam Matthews, my wrestler buddy, following up his debut in the first Skinner movie, as one of the detective team.

  There were a couple of additions, though: the story called for two villains, who turn out at the end to be brother and sister. My character, Andy, was to fall for the girl, while the other would get off with Alexis/ Rhona all with disastrous consequences. Miles cast a genuine brother and sister team in these parts, Jose and Roxanne Benali. Roxanne was pretty tempting, I have to admit. We had a couple of scenes where there was a lot of skin involved, and she didn't hold anything back in either of them. That made it difficult, because it meant that I could not allow myself to appear any less enthusiastic than her. In the end I just imagined that she was Susie, and gave her my best simulated shot, thanking my stars that it was a closed set, with only Miles and essential crew around. (A couple of years earlier and… given Roxanne's 'commitment to her part', as she put it, and under the duvet her interest in mine… it might not have been simulated.) We shot the thing, start to finish, in a total often weeks. Most of the schedule was in Edinburgh, but we had a couple of trips south to a big sound stage for disaster scenes which could not have been filmed in their actual locations… it would have meant blowing them up.

 
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