My boss at the film company where I work, part time, has been distracted over the last week or so. At one story conference he was obviously not concentrating. For all the input we got from him he might as well not have been there.
Creative input is a touchy thing. Destroy the balance sometimes and you destroy it all. So I spoke to him privately and tactfully afterwards. They regard me as something of an elder statesman there, with my track record in the movie business, so I am allowed to do these things.
He admitted that he was not himself. It’s the boy, he said.
The boss has a second wife and with her has had a new young family. I had met the boy at the boss’s barbeque last summer. I couldn’t remember his name. He was about twelve, I recalled. He seemed nice enough. I remembered his refreshing our glasses, and stopping with an appropriate word for each of us. He had a tweed jacket of which he must have been fond as he wore it through the afternoon even though it was hot and the rest of us were in shirt sleeves.
The boy? I said. What’s the matter? Bit young for drugs, I’d have thought. Sodomy, is it?
Nothing like that. Schooling.
He explained that he had always assumed without much thought that the boy would go to his old public school. He named it: a sturdy middle-class establishment, I thought to myself; hardly Eton. When the time came they had applied and the boy had been accepted, but only provisionally.
Provisionally? His Common Entrance grades, is it? I said.
No, no. There’s just a waiting list.
I’m surprised, I said, sympathetically. It’s a sturdy middle-class establishment; hardly Eton.
Arabs, he mouthed. Five little Arabs ahead of the boy in the queue. We need them to fall under a bus or get a surprise place somewhere else, or I don’t know where we’ll be.
He wandered off, shaking his head. I had a quiet word with his secretary and told her to redirect as many as possible of his meetings, where they did not require his own personal touch, to me.
The conversation was still very much in my mind when a week or so later a young man came in to pitch an idea for a series, and I fielded it.
Six episodes, he said, holding up six fingers (5L:1R), then making a vague hand gesture indicating ‘television’, just as if it were charades.
Drama, he added.
The modern world, he said. Grim. No end to the recession. Youth unemployment. The right education desperately important. Without A Levels from a reputable school and a good prospect of uni all may be lost. A father’s anguish.
Good heavens, I said – and I meant it.
He looked at me critically, so I shut up.
A father’s anguish, he repeated. An old family. Waugh. Brideshead. Generations at the same old coll. The boy. Decent, not over-bright. Accepted, but ‘provisionally’. Five ahead of him in the queue.
Six episodes? I said perceptively.
You’re perceptive, he said. Episode one. Father resolves that only desperate remedies will do. Overcoming his qualms takes ten minutes or so. Seeks out old compadre. At school together. Gone to the bad. Great charm though. Compadre makes a call. He has something on the school secretary. We see them arguing through the window of a pub. We can’t hear what they’re saying. Rain lashes the surface of the window, I think. She is in tears. Echoes rain. He gesticulates. He prevails. At the end of the episode we see him handing over to father the names and addresses of the five boys who are ahead in the queue.
Arabs, are they, the boys? I said.
He looked at me very straight.
Are you some kind of racist? he said.
Anyway, he said, having descended to subterfuge, father has to decide whether to go further. Murder. Overcoming his qualms takes two minutes or so. Then there’s an episode for each boy ahead in the queue.
And by September? I said.
I see the boy, kitted out in the anachronistic gear affected by the pupils at the old coll. He throws open some glass doors. Symbolic. Maybe it’s the doors to the school chapel. For a second we see, as if reflected in the glass doors, the faces of the victims. Those to whom the chances of a good education have been for ever denied.
You realise that Alec Guinness is no longer available to play the five boys, I said.
I don’t think that they all need to die, he mused. Maybe at the last minute the family of one of them is relocated to California. We see the boy checking in at Heathrow and in the shadows father fingering his garrotte. Half frustrated, half relieved.
Great idea, I said.
Thank you, he said.
I was being cunning, you will appreciate.
He leant forward.
I thought you’d say that. It’s based on a true story.
It is! We’ve signed up a consultant. This man has a business. He will guarantee to get your child into the public school of your choice. No foal, no fee. He says that there’s a dark side. He says, the things he’s done. If you think this is far-fetched you should hear some of the stories he’s told me. The hairs stand up.
I considered for a moment.
Have you signed our standard confidentiality agreement?
Of course, he said.
I’d like for you to meet my boss.