a teenager whose parents are harping for him to slow down in the family Volvo.”
“Speed and gravity were Charlie’s challenges. His point was to let kids know that any obstacle, no matter how seemingly insurmountable, can be overcome if one works at it long and hard enough. He encouraged diligence and determination, the good old American work ethic. He didn’t promote irresponsibility and recklessness. In light of some of the subculture heroes kids have, I think Charlie was a positive influence. I want him to be remembered for that and not for . . . for . . .”
The softly spoken word hung between them ominously.
Kirsten lowered her head until her chin almost touched her chest. “Yes.”
Rylan scooted over to the wood box and added a log to the fire. Once the screen was back in place, he dusted off his hands and returned to sit near the sofa again. This time, he propped his back against it, placing his shoulder near Kirsten’s knees.
“Other than continuing the legend of Demon . . .” he began, then added, “By the way, there was an argument on the set last week about which sports announcer actually dubbed him with that nickname.”
Kirsten laughed. “Once he got so famous, many claimed to have. The fact is, no one really knows for certain. The story goes that someone said he flew his airplane like a demon out of hell.”
“So some very clever person tacked your last name onto that and, voilà, a play on words.” She nodded. “Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah, why did you write the book?”
“I’ve told you.”
“You’ve told me why you did it for him. To preserve his heroism. Why did you do it for . . . or rather to . . . yourself?”
Rylan regretted having to put her through this. If he thought he could get to the heart of Demon Rumm’s character through articles and photographs and film clips, he would have spared his widow this inquisition. But his intuition, which had been the bane of producers, writers, and directors for years, was telling him that Kirsten was the key to the man behind the all-American smile. If he had to probe her until her spirit was sore, he would. He’d gone to much greater lengths before to research a role.
When he had played a Depression-era bum, he had lived like one for weeks, riding the rails and living hand to mouth. When he had played a football player, he had worked out with the L.A. Rams, sparing himself none of the physical punishment a professional athlete puts himself through. When he played a Polish Jew in a Nazi concentration camp, he had had his head shaved and went without solid food for weeks.
He would take whatever measures were necessary to “walk in the shoes” of the character he was portraying on film. Now he was trying to get into Demon Rumm’s skin through his widow. To all appearances, it was a very thick skin. It was going to be extremely uncomfortable for both of them.
“I had to lay it to rest,” Kirsten said in response to his question. Rylan turned his head slightly to look up at her. She was gazing into the fire. “After the accident, there were so many details to take care of. The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the crash, the funeral.” She shuddered. “It was such a circus. Press everywhere. Wailing fans clamoring to get close to the coffin.”
She covered her face with her hands, dainty hands with a fragile tracery of veins and slender fingers with tapering, manicured nails. Her visible suffering affected him deeply. He ached to touch her and, with some small gesture, express his apology for this necessary lancing of her wounds.
But what could he do? Take her in his arms and hold her as he wanted to? No. She might read pity into that, and he knew she was too proud and independent to want anyone’s pity. Holding her head between his hands and covering her incredibly sad face with kisses was also out of the question. He wouldn’t be able to stop with light, comforting kisses. If he