Darkness at Sunset and Vine

A Novella By Ginger Mayerson

Adapted by Dr. Kelly S. Taylor, Andrea Baldwin, Andrew Calvert, Chandler Thompson, Jay Wilkinson, and Adam Wood

 

 

 

 

 

Nellie

 

I think it all officially went to hell when the President, for lack of a better title, stopped giving speeches and hired an actor to do them. It had been going to hell for years, but this seemed to be the official announcement that life as we once knew it was over and was never coming back.

 

I hate working late. I hate data entry. So you can just imagine how interested I was when the IB announcer said in those annoyingly well modulated and well enunciated tones:

 

Television

 

"And now please welcome Mr. Daniel Bland, who will be delivering this evening's Presidential address."


 

 

Nellie

 

I must say that Daniel Bland, he of the epic space drama wherein he, as Captain Lula, bravely captains a starship into the unknown, did a great job with that speech. He was reassuring, fatherly and, unlike the weasely little rat we had foisted on us twelve years ago, he was... Presidential. I wonder how many people could remember Presidential and were having a Bill Clinton flashback as they watched this actor. After all these years of President Whistle-Ass and his handlers, it was soooo nice to see some command mojo on the screen that night; reminded me of the good old Clinton admin days, even made me wet.

 

But wet or not, I've spent too many years listening to confessions through screams of agony not to hear what old Captain Lula was saying on behalf of our

 

Guards

 

permanent-for-our-own-good government.

 

Nellie

 

He was saying, in a round-about way, that the Internal Intelligence Agency had rounded up and executed another cell of terrorists masquerading as the renegade underground MIT linguistics department, including professors emeritus. 

 

Hm, I thought, that should make some renegade, underground Berkeley linguists happy.

 

God bless us all. The Marine Corps double amputee choir began the Hymn of America, signaling that we could all go back to whatever we were doing before our government fucked up our evening entertainment viewing. In my case, it went back to the live webcast from my favorite slaughter house – "Abattoir Tonight" – which was the only reality show I could enjoy. Since Max and his "Dr. Max's Live, Nude Economics" show vanished, there just wasn't much on the Internet for me anymore. I even had an email thing going with him for awhile before he disappeared. What a shame. I always felt so smart watching Max explain money and power, but being smart isn't worth much anymore when even being useful won't keep you alive for long.

 

No, as I absently hummed the Hymn for America, my thoughts were on the DSL.  Twelve years ago, in a pants-crapping spasm of terror orchestrated by, well, my department at the Company, we convinced most of America to begin being inoculated on a weekly basis against Ebola pox.

 

Most of America obediently lined up their families for this free injection against a disease that didn't even exist.  This injection was primarily composed of Thorazine, a little souped up thimerosal, and a little Lophophora juice mixed in for body.  There was a shot of heroin to keep them coming back, too.  This little cocktail, administered once a week, did exactly what it was designed to do:  It killed the elderly in a matter of months, it caused brain damage in children, but most importantly it made the vast majority of able-bodied Americans into passive, paper-pushing, keyboarding, manual-laboring beasts of burden.

 

I say most Americans because there actually were quite a few who told the government to fuck off.  Very nasty, we in the government - even we on disciplinary leave from the government - do not like to be told to fuck off.  First we tried fear - a few festering, pustule-covered Ebola pox victims in major metropolitan areas, obviously the work of terrorists.  That worked on a few skeptics, but not all.  Then we tried coercion – the inoculations were not optional, they were mandatory.

 

I blame the internet for sounding the alarm and, um, telling the truth.  There, I said it:  The government was lying and the wackos on the internet were telling the truth.  We caught a lot of dissidents before they vanished, got them into a course of injections, strapped down and screaming blue murder.  Most wanted to die and I personally obliged a few.  I can be a nice gal if you catch me in the right mood.  But quite a few got away, aided by a network of killjoys on the internet who posted routes to safe houses that changed hourly.

 

This was used against us so much, and made the Company look so bad, that the Advisory Board on Terrorism, the ABT, formed the Internal Intelligence Agency.  The IIA was independent of everything, including domestic law.

 

The speech went on and on with high praise for the continuing efforts of the IIA to make America a safer and happier place for everyone.

 

"Everyone that doesn't piss the IIA off, that is," I added, wondering why they still bothered to tell us zombies anything.  To scare us?  Can't scare zombies, you fools.

 

 

SCENE II

 

Nellie

 

I lived south of Echo Park and east of Little Tokyo in what was left of the Good Samaritan hospital complex. A healthy community of kiosk businesses had taken root in the old parking lots and I stopped by my favorite fruitas guy for a bag of apples and a half pound of pistachios.

 

Frutas Guy

 

Somebody in your place, Miss Nellie. 

 

Limo Bros. Guy

 

They got the lights on, but you ain't home.

 

Nellie

 

Story of my life. I shut up because we were no longer alone.  A guy dressed in a baggy, filthy black suit, who looked like a scarecrow with a bad case of caffeine jitters, had joined us. 

 

Mr. S. Crow

 

You Nellie Gail?

 

Nellie

 

No. This puzzled Mr. S. Crow, but he recovered. 

 

Mr. S. Crow

 

The boss wants to see you.  Mr. James.

 

Nellie

 

My old boss from the Company, the guy who put me on disciplinary leave four years ago.  What the fuck did he want?  Well, I'd find out.  I took my groceries and brushed past the scarecrow and into the livable wreck I called home.

 

One of my books, Dwork and the Van Pelts' " Holocaust: A History", was in Mr. James' bony paw when I came in.  Standing behind him was a beefier scarecrow in a black suit who was not reading anything.

 

James

 

Good to know you're still reading in your field, Nell. We like our agents, even those on disciplinary leave, not to lose their edge.

 

Nellie

 

What do you want?

 

 

 

James

 

I've got a job for you.

 

Nellie

 

My old job?

 

James

 

No, private job.  You've still got your PI license, haven't you?

 

Nellie

 

Sure.

 

James

 

My daughter's gone missing. Her name is Sara Lee James.  I think she's with the DSL here in LA.

 

Nellie

 

Why do you think that?

 

James

 

I would have found her by now if she was anywhere but in this hellhole.

 

Nellie

 

When did she blow?

 

James

 

A few weeks ago, right after the IIA picked up that MIT linguistics terrorist cell.

 

Nellie

 

I thought that just happened.

 

James

 

No, the IIA had to make sure they had the right people. They were tough linguists, and the interrogations took longer than they thought.  My daughter got wind of it on my secure home computer.  She was interested in studying linguistics, so some of these people were heroes to her.  She cut and ran.

 

Nellie

 

I couldn't say I blamed her.

 

James

 

I want you to find her, Nell, and keep her in one piece until I can get to her. I'll... deal with the situation from there.

 

Nellie

 

He didn't haggle over the price, which made me suspicious of ever getting paid. Or ever living to ever actually get paid. The clincher was when the bodyguard brought my Universal Insurance boss in from the bedroom.

 

James

 

And just in case you were thinking of saying no to me. There are still police, courts, and prisons outside of Southern California, Nellie, the courts don't really need evidence to convict, but it's never a bad thing. Not even you would last very long in lockdown. 

 

Nellie

 

He turned to his bodyguard and told him to wait just outside the door. He must have been worried, even though I was unarmed.  Except for the sharpening rod that he didn't know about.

 

James

 

Tell me something, Nell, as a historian, why do you think the Third Reich failed?

 

Nellie

 

“They were bad at logistics.” People asked me this a lot, this was my standard answer.

 

James

 

Just that? Don't you think they were morally wrong and evil and therefore doomed?

 

Nellie

 

“They were very powerful and at the same time wasteful of their resources, unable to re-evaluate their positions and change course, and they didn't listen to their own experts. I don't know if that's morally wrong and/or evil. I do know it's stupid." This was my standard elaboration on the standard answer.

 

James

 

See any similarities in our government?

 

Nellie

 

“What government, James?” 

 

He seemed distressed by this.

 

But not for long. I knew he was wearing body armor, but not on his face, so I buried the rod into his left eye and jammed it into the back of his skull. I stepped over his flopping body and grabbed the Mauser. James' idiot bodyguard came in at the commotion and I dropped him with a head shot. I prefer chest shots because they are the bigger target and more efficient, but I was pretty sure he was wearing body armor and I was in a hurry.

 

Mr. S. Crow saw his colleague fall (pause) and decided not to be a hero. I chased him out of the building and through the kiosks, even into the rubble beyond them before I gave up. He could also run faster than I could. I think I winged him, though, I heard him yelp.

 

Mr. S. Crow

 

Yelp!

 

Nellie

 

On my way back through the kiosks I stopped at the Limo Brothers' recycling and burger stand and asked them to get the three bodies out of my apartment. They sent some of the younger generation up while I had a cup of chocolate with the fruitas guy.

 

Fruitas Guy

 

Tough night?

 

Nellie

 

"Nothing I can't handle. As long as the Limo Brothers are in business."

 

We smiled grimly at each other. The Limo Brothers were called that because they delivered freshly butchered meat in a solar/electric golf cart they called "The Limo" to anyone who could afford it. Or wanted it. No one ever saw a cow or pig anywhere near the mini-abattoir behind their kiosk. They also did a brisk bar-b-que and burger business, 24/7. I never ate there. Or never more than once a week.

 

SCENE III

 

Nellie

 

James had recruited me when I was at Cal State LA. I'd scored high on the sociopath scale on some mysterious tests the State wanted us to take to get our degrees that year. Not long after that James contacted me and my brother, who was doing a PhD in linguistics at Berkeley because we'd both scored "well" on those tests, by Company standards, and the Company was hiring.  We'd both refused, but James had our family and our dog killed, our scholarships cancelled and got us evicted from our places. We had nowhere to go but to him, so we did.  He gave us new names - I got Nellie Gail because Laguna Woods was taken.

 

But that was five years ago and this was tonight and I was very tired. The Limo Brothers body disposal did a thorough and fast job on my place. You'd never know there had been three messily killed bodies in it, they'd wiped it down so well. I lit the photo of Sara Lee, the girl I would not be finding for her father, and let it burn in the sink. I figured someone had Mr. Scare Crow for dinner, so there was now no evidence whatsoever that Mr. James of the Company or his goons had ever been in my neighborhood. I slept better for knowing that.

 

I went to work the next day and no one noticed that our boss was missing. This made me wonder just what my late boss actually did here at Universal Insurance.

 

Against my will, I found myself wondering about the late Mr. James' wandering daughter. It took some moxie to rebel these days, especially if you were raised with every advantage, in a gated community, and educated privately.

 

I stopped at the fruitas guy for a large carrot juice to go with my peanut butter pretzel entrée and Trail Mix Vegan cookies for dessert.

 

Fruitas Guy

 

Strangers around today, Miss Gail.

 

Nellie

 

Again?

 

Fruitas Guy

 

One was limping. Another was helping him. With a gun.

 

Nellie

 

Skinny limping guy? Like the one I was chasing last night?

 

Fruitas Guy

 

He was not limping last night, but, yes, it is him.

 

Nellie

 

I was mulling this over when the very distinctive sound of two shotguns being pumped distracted me.  The fruitas guy, raising his hands and backing away was even more distracting.

 

Don Knotts On Steroids

 

Glenn wants to see you.

 

Nellie

 

I looked over my shoulder to see who had the deep basso voice. There were two, one was a bad imitation of Mr. T and the other looked like Don Knotts on too many steroids. I nodded, picked up my groceries and my drink and headed for my place. No one spoke, so I never did know which one had the deep, deep voice.

 

I figured it was Glenn sitting in my arm chair with my copy of Balakian's "Black Dog of Fate".  He was mean and bureaucratic-looking. 

 

Glenn

 

Do you believe this Armenian genocide bullshit, Nellie?

 

Nellie

 

Yeah.

 

Glenn

 

Why?

 

Nellie

 

A million and a half Armenians disappeared between 1915 and 1923. That many people don't just vanish.

 

Glenn

 

Not easily, no.

 

 

 

Nellie

 

He seemed lost in thought so I decided the history discussion was over. "Who are you and what the fuck do you want?"

 

Glenn

 

I'm with the Internal Intelligence Agency and I want you to find this girl. 

 

Nellie

 

He handed me a photo of a pudgy, red-faced, squalling toddler.

 

Glenn

 

 She was last seen with this girl.

 

Nellie

 

 He handed me a photo of Sara Lee. 

 

Glenn

 

Know her?

 

Nellie

 

No.

 

Glenn

 

Whoa, Nellie, don't you know her? Her father was here last night.

 

Nellie

 

Since Mr. S. Crow was in the room, I figured an outright lie was not going to wash. "So?"

 

Glenn

 

So? So what did he want?

 

Nellie

 

"He wanted my opinion on the Third Reich." This seemed to throw him into a funk.

 

 

Glenn

 

Didn't Hitler mention the Armenian Genocide?

 

Nellie

 

"Yes." I waited until he was back on track.

 

Glenn

 

I want to hire you to find the toddler. Her name is Millie. The girl's name is Sara Lee James, in case you forgot in the past 24 hours.

 

Nellie

 

What makes you think they're in LA?

 

Glenn

 

James was here looking for his daughter. Hiring you to look for her. Millie was last seen with Sara.

 

Nellie

 

What makes you think I can find either of them?

 

Glenn

 

This is your town, Nellie.

 

Nellie

 

What's this job pay? Or am I working for the IIA now?

 

Glenn

 

It's a private job. A million for the kid, alive and in good shape.

 

Nellie

 

And for Sara Lee?

 

 

Glenn

 

I don't give a good Goddamn about Sara Lee! This gun is registered to you. Can I borrow this?

 

Nellie

 

I never lend my books because there're no publishers anymore to replace them. How do I find you for updates?

 

Glenn

 

I'll be in touch. Oh, and we think the kid is with the DSL, if you need a hint.

 

Nellie

 

They left and I emailed the Limo Brothers that I had a pick-up for them, a single. I decided to take my peanut butter pretzels and carrot juice outside while they tidied up. Don-Knotts-overdosed-on-steroids stole my fucking pretzels, the bastard.

 

This just was not my day.

 

SCENE III b

 

Nellie

 

If, and it was a big fucking "IF", this Millie kid was with the DSL there was no way to find her. The DSL was everywhere and nowhere. There were even urban legends that they'd all morphed into cyber-spirits and were living in the Internet, appearing in visions to the faithful. Well, that sounded like the faithful got a bad hit of Ebola pox vaccine to me.

 

The other question I had was WHY did the DSL have her IF they had her? And WHY was the IIA involved, and HOW was SARA LEE, I mean, Sara Lee involved? And WTF was I supposed to do about it? In the meantime, I surfed up some gossip on the net about the DSL in LA.

 

Ghosts and more ghosts.

 

I decided right then to take a page out of Sara Lee's book and get the fuck out of Dodge, or at least the U.S.  I didn't have any friends in Mexico or anywhere really, but I did have some people I could scare into giving me a start in Baja.

SCENE IV

 

Infomercial Guy

 

Southern California had been the sixth, maybe even fifth, largest economy in the whole fucking world. It had had flocks of the most brilliant thinkers, herds of beautiful men and women, a string of great universities, two and a half of the greatest cities in the world, and more joy, more hope, and more love than you could shake a stick at, all of which translated into megabucks for some reason I could never understand. Now there was only rage and fear.  Most of the state was now wasteland or jungle-like cities.  There was no GSP, no money, and damn little hope.

 

Nellie

 

Hah! Not me! I was on my way to old Mexico and out of this mess for good. I tied up a few loose ends at my desk, made a few more decisions for my dead boss and hit the road for home.

 

Infomercial Guy

 

They were waiting for her. She knew this because they left Glenn's, Mr. T's and Don Knotts-OD’ed-on-steroids' heads neatly lined up in front of her door. She saw red, and it wasn't just blood. Enough was fucking enough. She wheeled on the goon coming up the stairs behind her. She caught him in the chest with both Capezio boot-clad feet and rode him down the flight of stairs. She had her new gun out by then and shot him. She fired wildly at movement to my right.  There was a scream and a thump. She ran to the left.

 

She could hear them coming. She ran through wrecked wards parallel to the hallway she knew they were in. It was the hallway to the outside. She needed to be outside.. (Nellies shoots narrator.)

 

Nellie

 

I stood a better chance outside.

I dove for cover and started firing at whatever moved.  I put the Mauser away and drew my titanium Colt.  I put on my Infra-RayBans to protect my eyes.  I emptied the Colt and wished I had more bullets.  I drew out my other guns, emptying them at whatever moved out there.

 

A guy wearing a nice blue suit and an AK-47 strolled up to me.

 

Henchman #1

 

Boss wants to see you.

 

 

Nellie

 

He pointed the gun at my head, while another guy in an equally nice herringbone pattern took my guns.

 

Henchman #2

 

Let's go, Miss Gail.

 

Nellie

 

They were a tidy crew.  The dead guys were already gone from the stairwell and even the blood was cleaned away.  It was worthy of the Limo Brothers, but I knew they'd be defending their kiosk until the shooting died down.

 

Rush

 

For a historian you read very crappy stuff.

 

Nellie

 

I'll try to reform. Who are you?

 

Rush

 

Oh, just call me Rush. Have you found Millie yet?

 

Nellie

 

Not yet. And since Glenn's head is on my doorstep, I don't have a client anymore.

 

Rush

 

I'm your client now.

 

Nellie

 

I was thinking of retiring.

 

Rush

 

Find me Millie and you can retire. I don't care what you do after you find her.

 

 

Nellie

 

Why does everyone think I can find this kid? You've got more firepower and muscle, you find her.

 

Rush

 

She's not where we can go. She's in Lincoln Heights, at County with the DSL.

 

Nellie

 

Forget it. I'm tough but not psychotic enough to start looking for the DSL in the rubble of County Hospital.

 

Rush

 

Do you know what's holding this country together, Nellie?

 

Nellie

 

Greed?

 

Rush

 

Will. A few people with the will and vision to guide America. An elite class, the natural leaders of America.

 

Nellie

 

"And who might they be?" I asked, trying to sound awed.  I must have succeeded, because he smiled and it was disgusting.

 

Rush

 

Do you believe in the Ulluminati?

 

Nellie

 

I forced my eyes not to roll.  "Ah, no, I don't believe in the Illuminati any more than I believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny."

 

Rush

 

I didn't say the Illuminati. I said the Ulluminati.

 

 

Nellie

 

"I see." I wondered which one of us had the pronunciation problem.

 

Rush

 

I don't believe in the Illuminati either. But admire the concept.  My people have modeled ourselves after the Illuminati, except we're Protestant.

 

Nellie

 

Southern Baptists?

 

Rush

 

Episcopalian. University-educated, business-minded, heterosexual, and fed up with Democracy. We never cared for it in the first place.

 

Nellie

 

I wondered how long this lecture was going to go on.

 

Rush

 

Sara Lee took one of our most precious children and we want her back. We want you to convince the DSL to give her back.

 

Nellie

 

I didn't say anything. He was staring too hard at me. I thought if I opened my mouth, he'd try to grab my tongue.

 

Rush

 

Tell me, Nellie, do you think this Orcinus guy got it right about the transmitters?

 

Nellie

 

Yes and no.

 

Rush

 

Oh?  Tell me.

 

Nellie

 

Yes, the conservative radio people and journalists were getting their lines from the extreme right, fascists, if you will, but the white trash militias and the Christanists were never the real danger because they had no real power, just rage and the ability to kill a varying number of people.  As we know, they were the first ones to volunteer to be inoculated and were the first sacrificed.

 

Rush

 

And, what do you think was the real danger?

 

Nellie

 

People who'd been in the top one percent income bracket for more than two generations, isolated by their wealth and out of touch with this country. The danger was always that the rich would use whatever means to seize power and use it to get what they wanted.

 

Rush

 

Which was?

 

Nellie

 

Everything. And what they didn't want, or couldn't understand, or were afraid of, they threw away.  Like Los Angeles.

 

Rush

 

And why do you think we, I mean, they did that?

 

Nellie

 

Because you, I mean, they had by normal standards everything, but it was not enough and you, I mean, they would do anything to make sure you, I mean, they, kept it.

 

Rush

 

"And we, I mean, they, have succeeded magnificently! Mission accomplished, one could say, with a caveat or two.

 

Nellie

 

I thought about the last guy who said that and it wasn't true then either.  But I kept my mouth shut.  This wasn't the right time to make sense.

 

Rush

 

I wonder, Nellie, as a historian, what do you admire about the Third Reich?

 

Nellie

 

I've been asked this question before, but never with so many guns on me.  "That they lost."

 

Rush

 

Oh, I agree. A complete waste. Either win conclusively or annihilate everything when you go, that's the ticket.

 

Nellie

 

I thought about asking him what the Ulluminati's policy on that was, but the moment passed.  He took out a lighter and set the pamphlet on fire.

 

Rush

 

You're not supposed to have this.

 

Nellie

 

It occurred to me that I'd just download another one and print it out. Someone always had one online somewhere. But this was not my biggest worry after he singed off half my hair. "I'm going to have a tough time finding your girl with my head on fire, Rush," I said, gritting my teeth and patting out the sparks.

 

Rush

 

Eh, it's a new look for you.

 

Nellie

 

Heine once observed that "where one burns books, one in the end burns men". I didn't know if this applied to pamphlets and female PIs, but it seemed apt for the moment.

 

"Rush" handed me a PDA and told me all his contact points were in it.  It was secure and wireless.  I was impressed until I noticed the "Heche en Mexico" on the back and wondered who he had killed to get this.

 

Rush

 

The clock is running, Nellie.

 

Nellie

 

I asked what the job paid.

 

Rush

 

It's a living wage. You get to live.

 

Nellie

 

Ba dum bum bum.  Asshole.

  

 

SCENE V

 

NELLIE

 

One of the Limo Brothers' kids - I never knew which kid belonged to which brother, it was such a flock - came over and damn politely asked me if he could be of any assistance.  Actually said:

 

"Excuse me, Miss Gail, may we be of any assistance tonight?" 

 

"It's slim pickin's, kid, all I got is these three heads," I said, holding the bag open.

 

 

LINCOLN HEIGHTS GUY

Once Lincoln Heights had once been a thriving, mostly Hispanic and Asian community.  They all had jobs, and many had small businesses and employees.  They sent their children to Lincoln High or Sacred Heart and put "Proud Parent" bumper stickers on their cars.  Their children went to East LA College or Pasadena City College and then got Bachelors degrees from Cal State LA or Cal State Long Beach and the next generation could live a bit better than the previous one.  They made progress for themselves, small, careful, measured steps toward the life they wanted.  There were no get-rich-quick schemes in Lincoln Heights, there were no blazing superstars; it was the land of hopeful realists.  And they did have hope, they had it by the yard, but now all they had was rubble.

 

The people of Lincoln Heights, and Boyle Heights, too, would not accept the occupation and so they fought back.  Many of them had lived in Asia and Central America, so they knew, better than the rest of us, what was going to happen.  They knew soldiers in the streets are never a temporary condition, but herald a profound change for everyone.  They had seen it all before and this was their stand, their last stand, because it's better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

 

And they lost.  The battles raged from Figueroa in Highland Park all the way south to the 60 freeway.  The final siege was at the County/USC Medical School and Hospital complex.  It was one of the places the community was most proud of and they defended it to the last man, woman and child. 

 

Our own government had turned the greatest military in the world on their own people.  Without the ideals our country was founded on, we were all dead, even the living.  The American experiment was over.  We could only be slaves now. 

 

Those of us who truly understood that did various things. 

 

But nature doesn't philosophize, it just sends up saplings in the bombed out streets and grass shoots in the shattered pavements.

 

NELLIE

But all the philosophy I need is at the end of a gun because I'm no good with a knife.

 

It was very dark in Lincoln Heights.  I didn't blame them; light meant people and in this part of town, people meant food.

 

The silence around the rubble of County Hospital is very creepy. I shot two scavengers crouching there and looked around for more.  There weren't any; I had heard that the County complex was no man's land, even for the scavengers.

 

I smelled them before I saw them and would have made tracks if the floor hadn't given under me.  I slid down in a shower of linoleum and ceiling tile, right into a convention of scavengers.  There was a hallway at my back, which I hoped to God it didn't lead into another group of monsters. 

 

I clambered down a stairway and into another hallway, a long one.  I could see double doors at the end, and I hoped they were open.

 

I pulled my Colt and shot the lock, but the doors still held.  I turned and emptied it into mob in the hallway.  Falling over the dead slowed them but didn't stop them.  I got my Mauser and Beretta out and fired for all I was worth.  There were too many and I wasn't willing to be torn apart.  I figured I had one shot left in the Berretta.  I put it to my head and pulled the trigger.

 

I can't even fucking count anymore.

 

SCENE VI

 

NELLIE

 

The guy looked just like he did on "Live, Nude Economics.”

 

"Hello, Max," I said, putting away my knife and pulling up a chair.  "I heard you were dead," I added, pulling off my Infra-RayBans and ski mask.

 

MAX

"Not dead, Nell.  Not even resting.  I've been south of the border."

 

NELLIE

"What brings you to Los Angeles?"

 

MAX

"Fyodor Chandler."

 

NELLIE

"He's dead."

 

MAX

"Oh, he's very much alive and causing as much trouble as ever.  Who else could bring the Company, the IIA, and the Ulluminati down on the City of Angels?"

 

NELLIE

"Somebody named Sara Lee?"

 

MAX

"She's just a pawn."

 

NELLIE

"And Millie?"

 

MAX

"Just a tool."

 

NELLIE

I decided I didn't even want to know what was going on.  "Well, Max, it was great to meet you in person at last.

 

MAX

"Sit down, Nell.  I need you."

 

NELLIE

"Why me?"

MAX

"Because you're in the middle of this.  You're the center of attention, the star of the show.

 

NELLIE

"Oh, yeah?  How'm I doing?"

 

MAX

"Don't quit your day job.  "You're my best shot at solving what's become my worst problem."

 

NELLIE

"Then you're way fucked, Max.  Because I can't find Sara Lee James or this Millie kid.  And if they're here, and my evening so far is any indication, somebody has eaten them by now."

 

MAX

"I know where they are.  And of course you would pick the wrong side of the street, Nell.  This side, County Hospital, is controlled by the DSL.  The Med school side is all scavengers."

 

NELLIE

"How do Sara Lee and Millie fit into all this?"

 

MAX

"Sara Lee kidnapped Millie from the White House and brought her to the DSL here in LA.  James really was just trying to find his daughter."

 

NELLIE

"Who's Millie?"

 

MAX

"She's the bastard love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jenna Bush."

 

NELLIE

This was no mean feat.  Schwarzenegger had been dead for eight years and Jenna Bush in an alcoholic coma for six.  "How old is this kid?"

 

MAX

"She's four.  She was cloned."

 

NELLIE

"That's illegal."

 

MAX

"The Bush family considers itself above the law."

 

NELLIE

"But why do it?"

 

MAX

"As you know, this country's current leadership has no imagination whatsoever.  "They want to rule dynastically and this is the best they could do.  To us, it's pathetic, but after they installed Schwarzenegger as governor, he grew in their minds as the next president."

 

NELLIE

"I thought you had to be born here to..."

 

MAX

"To be elected, yes, but the Bush gang doesn't bother with elections or laws, my dear."

 

NELLIE

"What a fucking mess.  "All right, I'll convince Fyodor go with you.  But in return, I want this Millie kid.  I'll need her to buy some time and save my life."

 

MAX

"I don't care what you do with her.  "The IIA and the Ulluminati have a small army in LA for this."

 

NELLIE

"And you want me to take them out?”

 

He outlined a plan.  I told him it stank and outlined a better one.

 

MAX

"I always knew you were good for something, Nell.”

 

NELLIE

I also had a list of demands, all of which I thought were doable if I was going to risk my life for... for whatever all this was about.  I got nods, which I took as a good sign.

 

When I got home, I put my ride away and I stopped by the fruitas guy for some carrot juice. 

 

FRUITAS GUY

"Evening, Miss Gail."

 

NELLIE

"Falafel sandwich and a side of hummus to go."  I nodded to the old guy reading an Armenian newspaper behind the counter. 

 

When my falafel was bagged and paid for, I asked the old man if he saw any similarities between the United States as it is now and the Armenian Genocide and also the Third Reich. 

 

ARMENIAN GUY

"Of course, you idiot, bad ideas, fear, murder, and greed are the same always and everywhere, dumb shit."

"Sh-nora-ha-gu-lu-chune"

 

FRUITAS GUY

He say -- Someone in your place, Miss Nellie.

 

NELLIE

"Hi Rush, who's your friend?" I asked as two guys frisked me.  They left my body suit and boots on, but that was it.

 

KEVIN

"My name….is Kevin."

 

NELLIE

He had a hatchet face and no lips.  I found this fascinating and repulsive.  He also had my copy of Borowski's "This Way For the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen" and I wished these guys would stay the fuck out of my bookcase.  I hadn't read it yet, and didn't want anyone pawing it, breaking the spine, or setting it on fire.

 

RUSH

"I like your new look, Nellie," Rush simpered.  "Any luck tonight?"

 

NELLIE

"Maybe. What's your interest here, Kevin?"

 

RUSH

"Fyodor Chandler," he said, stroking the spine of my book.

 

NELLIE

"He's dead."

 

KEVIN

"He's in Lincoln Heights with an army of linguists and other such overeducated types.  Find Millie, you find him."

 

NELLIE

"You know Glenn offered me a million for Millie. Is that still a deal?"

 

KEVIN

"Yes and no.  I'm after Fyodor Chandler.  Give him to me and I'll give you your million and a job in the IIA."

 

NELLIE

I tried not to show how much this interested me.  "What kind of a job?"

 

KEVIN

"Whatever kind you'd like.  Something you'd be good at, I'm sure.  Miss Gail, while I have you. What do you consider the main failing of the Third Reich?"

 

NELLIE

"That their reach exceeded their grasp."

 

We smiled a little longer and then they left.  Not a moment too soon.  Smiling wears me out.  I also had a lot to think about.

 

I am a historian of genocide, and because of it, everyone assumes I know a lot about the Third Reich.  I know as much as I needed to know to understand how they committed genocide, but not why.  I understood the how of all the genocides I'd studied, from Buchenwald, to Eastern Turkey, to Rwanda, to Siberia, to Nanking, to the Great Plains of our own Manifest Destiny, but to this day I don't understand why people kill on that level.  I understand why individuals kill each other, but organized, systematic killing puzzles me.  Why take all the fun and spontaneity out of it?  It was also a waste of time and resources.  Especially when, with the slightest effort, the despised can be co-opted into their own destruction, à la taking the Ebola Pox vaccinations and voting Republican.

 

I don't mind being on the wrong side of history as long as I'm alive to be on any side of history.  But at that moment, I was tired, and just wanted to be lulled to sleep with Borowski's account of Auschwitz.  I don't get nightmares.  I don't need them.

 SCENE VI

 

Nellie

It was quiet as usual when I got to the rendezvous.  I waited.  It crossed my mind that this would be a good place for an ambush, but I thought I knew who I was dealing with.

 

A haggard blond girl moved silently out of the shadows.  She looked starved and stressed, but grim and determined, and was carrying a trussed up toddler.

 

"Why is there duct tape on her mouth?" I asked.  "I thought she couldn't speak."

 

SARA LEE

"She makes noise.  I'm Sara Lee."

 

NELLIE

"Why did they send you?"

 

SARA LEE

"I asked for it. I started this, I'll finish it."

 

NELLIE

"You're very brave," I said.  And extra stupid, I thought.  "I assume the DSL is gone."

 

SARA LEE

 

"Before dawn, as planned. Their ships docked in Mexico hours ago." 

 

NELLIE

So Fyodor was safe.  I couldn't get too worked up about it… even if he was my brother; I had quite a night ahead of me yet.

 

"Well, it was swell, guys, "I said, and picked up Millie like an overnight bag.

 

Rush was standing in a knot of men several yards from the entrance of the rubble.  They were flanked by a dozen black Humvees, and six black helicopters hung overhead. 

 

RUSH

"Good work, Nellie!  Hand her over."

 

NELLIE

"This is quite a crowd to pick up one little girl, Rush."

 

RUSH

"We're here for Fyodor, too."

 

NELLIE

"He's not here," I said.

 

KEVIN

"Then you're dead.”

 

RUSH

"Give me the girl!"

 

NELLIE

"How about Sara Lee?"

 

KEVIN

"Fuck her!"

 

SARA LEE

"FUCK YOU!"

 

NELLIE

"Here's the girl!" I yelled and flung her with all my might into Kevin's chest. 

 

[Helicopter and Motorcycle battle]

 

 

I was alive, I owned the building, and I had moved my meager belongings into one of the more comfortable office suites on the third floor.  I would ask the fruitas guy and the Limo Brothers if they wanted to rent the empty commercial space at street level.  There was no place nearby to get carrot juice and this needed to be remedied.

 

As for me, I had plans for a kinder, gentler life for a while.  Money in the bank, the building in my name, a doable day job, no worries on the horizon, the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

 

I love LA.

 

***The End***