He calms down enough to call the director of Silent Scream, Jean-Paul.
“Bonjour,” Jean-Paul says when he answers the phone. “James. How can I help you?”
James opens and closes his mouth soundlessly. He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know where to begin.
“James? Are you there? James?”
Michael takes the phone from him. “Hey, Jean-Paul. It’s Michael Axton. Listen, we have a problem…How soon can you get to LA?”
“LA? No, it is impossible; I’m still in Louisiana editing the film! I cannot leave.”
Michael turns away from James, who looks dangerously close to another breakdown.
“Please,” he says. “We’ll pay for the flights and your accommodation. Please come. We need to talk.”
Jean-Paul can hear the urgency in Michael’s voice.
“Is everything okay? Is James okay?”
Michael turns back to look at his brother. His face is ashen. His clothes are hanging off him, too big for him 20 pounds ago. His eyes that once saw everything now see nothing. He is less than a shadow of himself.
“No,” Michael says. “He’s not.”
Jean-Paul takes a deep breath. “Okay,” he says after a pause. “I will find out flight times and call you back.”
“Thank you,” Michael says. “Thank you.”
Jean-Paul hangs up.
“He’s coming,” Michael says to James. “I’m sure he’ll kill the film, J. I know he will. We’ll get Alexander back.”
James stares at him without seeing him. Michael wonders what is going on inside his head, but judging by the wild look in his eyes…He doesn’t really want to know.
He mindlessly flicks on the TV, desperate for a distraction.
A picture of him and Alexander fills the screen.
He stops breathing.
“It’s been revealed that missing seven year old Alexander Saunders is allegedly the child who was spotted out and about with world famous screen writer James Axton last month,” a female news anchor says over the picture. “Axton has not released a statement, but is said to be working closely with the authorities. It is unclear whether the child was taken as a direct result of his alleged relationship with the HEAT quadrilogy writer.
“The child went missing from his home in the Hollywood Hills two days ago. His aunt and legal guardian, thirty-five year old magazine editor Jenna Saunders, was injured in the abduction and remains in the hospital in a critical but stable condition. Police are asking for anyone with any information about this case to contact Crime Stoppers on 555-1278-308. That’s 555-127…”
James turns off the TV.
Detective Roberts’ words play in his mind.
Our forensic psychologists suggested that your involvement may antagonise the kidnappers or encourage them to use the boy to make some kind of statement…
He leans on his pool table, using it to keep him steady. His fingers close around an abandoned pool cue still sitting on the table. Alexander always forgot to hang them back on the wall. He picks it up and tries to remember the last time they played pool together.
He can’t remember anything except the way Alexander said his name, the fear in his voice, the sound of his scream…
He snaps the cue across his knee and whacks it against the nearest wall. A shower of plaster litters the room as Michael and Detective Grady come running in.
“James, what are you…” Michael starts, but James ignores him, bashing the cue against the wall over and over again until all that remains of the wall are a few pieces of plaster, barely clinging to what is left of the frame. Until the wall is as broken as he is. He lets the cue fall to the ground and walks out of the room without saying a word.
At around lunch time when Michael is trying to coax James to eat something, James’ phone rings. He snatches it off the table and answers it without checking the caller ID.
“We have a lead,” Detective Oliver says.
He grips the phone even tighter.
“We managed to trace the location of the call from the burner cell. We’re headed over there now.”
“I’m coming,” James says. Or at least he thinks he says. He’s not sure of anything anymore.
“We’ll call you as soon as we know something,” Detective Oliver says.
“I’m COMING,” James says, louder this time. “Tell me where you’re headed. Tell me where he is.”
Detective Oliver sighs. “I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” she starts. “It can be very dangerous to have the families invol—”
“NO!” James screams. Michael jumps. “No,” he repeats, more controlled this time. “I am NOT going to sit here and do nothing. I need to find him. I need to be the one he sees. I need to be there! Don’t you understand?? I need to be there for him!! I NEED HIM!!” He takes a sharp breath in. “To be there,” he corrects, struggling to remain calm. “I need to be there for him.”
Detective Oliver is silent for what feels like an eternity.
James’ heart ceases to beat.
Finally she says, “Okay. Okay, Mr Axton. I’ll have Officer Black drive you over to meet us. But you stay in the car. You stay in the car and you do not get out until I give you the okay. No matter what. Do you understand?”
“Fine,” James says with no intention of listening. “I’ll stay in the car. Just please…Please let me be there. Please let me see him.”
“He may not be there,” Detective Oliver cautions. James nods even though she can’t see him.
“I know. But…I have to believe he is.”
Detective Oliver’s voice softens. “I understand. I’m sending Officer Black the details. We’ll see you over there. Remember; you must stay in the car.”
James closes his eyes. “I promise,” he says. “I promise.”
He hangs up. He knows he should feel guilty for lying, but he doesn’t.
There are worse promises to break.