It was in Superman . . . Batman . . . Marvel comics. And maybe that’s what happens. In America, the words of the prophets really are written on subway walls.’
‘And the tenement halls,’ said Gilly.
Jojo should have said that, Toby thought, but Jojo was looking remote, as if she could hardly hear what was being said.
‘And the tenement halls,’ said Toby.
‘A few comic books?’ said Chadwick, incredulous.
‘Popular culture,’ said Toby.
‘Coincidence,’ said Chadwick. ‘Superimposed meaning. Wishful thinking.’
‘Maybe,’ said Toby. ‘That’s what I’m studying it to see.’
Caspar had slipped into the room and had sat down at the empty place without a word.
‘Take Ghostbusters ,’ said Toby. He felt emboldened by Caspar’s poker-face. ‘Now here’s a ridiculous movie. No one could possibly take it seriously. Manhattan invaded by all the old demons of the Middle East. Then, because of official denials, the demons escape – Boom! – and New York is under attack. A crazy story – but a much better prophecy than anything Foreign Affairs magazine or the Washington Post ever came up with. There’s even a shot of the explosion framed by the Twin Towers. Then the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man – America at its most innocent – turns evil and begins to tear down our own structures. Perfect metaphor.’
‘Manhattan invaded by all the demons of the Middle East,’ said Chip. ‘That’s nice, Toby. I could use that.’
‘Thanks, Chip,’ said Toby.
He and Chip were both aware they rarely engaged positively.
‘I might just use that,’ said Chip again, generously. He suddenly wanted to defend his step-son, and to form an alliance against Chadwick. ‘You say “because of official denials”. What do you mean? What denials?’
‘Remember in the movie,’ said Toby. ‘Some guy from the federal government declares there are no demons. They don’t exist. Then the holding facility is shut down and – Boom! – they escape. It’s just like American foreign policy. “We can do what we like in the Middle East. Nothing can touch us.” Boom! September 11!’
‘Whoa, whoa, whoa – now just you hold your horses,’ said Chip.
‘I was in London on 9/11,’ said Toby. ‘I saw it all from there. There was this guy from Washington, a White House staffer, running round London, panting into one TV studio after the other yelling: “This has nothing to do with Israel.” The obvious conclusion was this: He thought 9/11 was caused by America’s bias towards Israel.’
‘September 11 had nothing whatsoever to do with Israel,’ said Chip. ‘I hate to hear you even suggest it, under my own roof.’
‘It’s my roof, too,’ said Candy. ‘And Bernard’s roof.’
‘It’s not an unreasonable argument,’ said Chadwick. ‘Bin Laden himself said Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians was a reason he attacked us, and I guess he’d know.’
‘Hitler blamed World War Two on the Jews,’ said Chip. ‘I suppose you’d say’ – Chip put on a simper – ‘ “And I guess he’d know.” ’
‘I will not have that man’s name mentioned in this house,’ said Candy. ‘It’s always the sign of a weak argument when he gets dragged in.’
Bernard had got to his feet shakily. He walked along past all the diners to the sitting-room through the open double doors. Everyone watched him, though as if they were unsure why. He sat down in an armchair and looked back into the dining room, and then beamed at the assembled party.
‘Where were you on 9/11?’ Gilly asked Jojo.
‘I was in LA,’ said Jojo. ‘We were staying at this hotel and my girlfriend rang from down the hall. It was six in the morning. “Turn on the TV,” she said. But I couldn’t work the remote and I went down to her room and on the way the doors were open and everyone was talking to each other in their pyjamas. In the Chateau Marmont! You just knew something terrible had happened.’
Heloise’s eye was perfectly