You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.
Preston on watch
Preston had spent most of the early evening drifting around the plaza next to Universal City station, invisible except when he got bored enough to take on the guise of a pigeon and jump into one of the flocks that had gathered around an old woman who kept tossing them breadcrumbs, even after she had been told by multiple authorities to stop.
To him, the best part about that had been the weird looks the other pigeons gave him. They weren’t really intelligent enough give it any expression other than a sideways look that said, “What the fuck, dude, you ain’t no bird,” but he was pleasantly surprised that they at least acknowledged him.
When it had gotten sufficiently late, he took the stairs down to the platform and then he spotted the dudes just as they were coming off of the train. They were pretty much what Anabel had described and he popped back into his human form — naked as usual but totally invisible — and just gawked.
He gauged them both to be probably about mid- to late-30s, but Anabel hadn’t told the whole truth. Sure, she had described them as a couple of lanky steampunk nerds, which had already got Preston going, but she had omitted the two most important words.
That had been Preston’s entire stock-in-trade back in the day. His catnip, his raison d’être. His raison d’être cet. He suddenly realized that getting captured probably wouldn’t be all that bad a thing and he started to strut toward them when Anabel suddenly popped up in front of him and, unlike a lot of the stuff around here, she had the power to physically stop him in his tracks.
“Glad you made it,” she said. “Don’t get jumpy.”
“I’m supposed to let them catch me, right?”
“Yes, but… again, can you just kind of fake clothes?”
“What? None of them can see — ”
“Or at least slap down the Angel Lust?”
“Goddamn, you are way too new.”
“Yeah, sorry I’m not old like you… Anabel. Rose.”
“Shut up — ”
“You shut up now!”
“Chanler — ”
“You shut your fucking whore mouth!”
Anabel looked like something had punched the wind out of her sails and every aspect of her started to go monochrome before she recovered, grabbed the air, shrieked, although no one but Preston heard it.
“Who told you that?” she demanded.
“No one,” Preston replied. “I figured it out on my own.”
“Impossible,” Anabel said. “You’re… you…. no…”
“Oh, sorry. Were you about to say that I’m too stupid?”
“You heard me.”
“Yeah. I did. Ms. LeCard. Who died in 1926. Oh. Oh my god, stupid little himbo pornstar whore gets it — somehow, you married your ass into my family, so you’ve got some goddamn connection here. What is it?”
“Who told you that?” Anabel screamed at him.
“Architecture,” he replied. “So… why should I turn myself over to become the little prisoner of those two hot daddies?”
Anabel glared at him, shot him a look like she wanted to rip his head off, and then just sighed and shook her head. “Number one, because you fucking want to, you little whore. Number two because… yeah. I guess I know what architecture didn’t tell you.”
“That Anabel Rose Catherine Chanler LeCard had a son. Named Preston.”
“You’re… your my mother? Then why are you asking me to sacrifice my ass in the first place?” Preston shot back. He turned away but she grabbed him and dragged him to the far end of the platform.
“Not yet. Idiot,” she hissed at him. They faded into the shadows and waited. It was still a little too crowded.
She was more infuriated that he’d figured out — sort of — who she was. She knew he must have stumbled into the family mausoleum, but also knew that he never would have bothered to do it on his own. Somebody must have tipped him off, but who could have done that? And why?
At least she didn’t have to worry about him not getting captured. He was going to let his usual lusts drag him into trouble. While she’d told the truth that she was going to keep an eye on him, they really had no intentions of rescuing him. They just wanted to figure out where the two hunters were going to take him and what they intended to do.
She was pretty certain that it didn’t involve any of the things that Preston was hoping that they’d do to him. Maybe she shouldn’t be so angry, though. So what if he’d learned her full name and a little truth? It’s not like he was going to be around much longer to do anything about it.
She contemplated just throwing him into the elevator and sending it all the way up. Underground, those things were fine, but once they’d risen aboveground, even a little, they were death traps to her kind.
* * *
Joshua was the one who spotted the shadow first and he signaled. Simon. They both got up and readied their equipment, but this shadow acted differently than the other ones. When it clearly had sensed their approach, instead of pretending to be an actual shadow or trying to hide among them, it actually seemed to become darker and more defined and stopped, as if waiting for them.
It almost looked like the actual shadow of a human being cast on the wall. Joshua and Simon stopped waited.
“Well, this is new,” Simon said.
“And very disconcerting,” Joshua added.
“Excuse me — ”
They both turned at the sudden voice to see Brenda approaching them. She was dressed in civilian clothes but had a name tag and badge identifying her as a Metro employee. “Can I help you two with something down here?”
“Um… just waiting for a train,” Simon replied.
“Long wait,” she said. “Are you sure it’s a train you came down here to catch?”
“It’s not an airplane,” Joshua offered, trying to lighten the mood.
Brenda huffed, pulled out her phone and tapped, then showed them the footage of themselves from the previous week, as they tried to evade the creature on the stairs. “Look familiar?” she asked.
“That’s not us,” Joshua said.
“They have a great fashion sense, though,” Simon added.
“Cut the bullshit,” Brenda shot back. “Mind telling me what’s going on here?”
“We can’t,” Simon told her.
“Sorry, yeah, can’t,” Joshua said. “Government stuff.”
“Very classified,” Simon explained.
“The other one’s got bells on it,” Brenda said dryly.
“Are you a cop?” Simon asked.
“No,” she said.
“Oh, good. Bye!”
He grabbed Joshua’s arm and they took off running, catching Brenda off-guard. Before she could do anything, the shadow suddenly darted after them, looking exactly like a human form racing along the platform.
“Oh, hell no,” she muttered to herself as she took off in pursuit. She could see the two of them racing up the escalator even as the shadow ran up the stairs. This one was fast, too. Faster than the faceless beast from the other station. All of them were faster than Brenda, who’d been driving a desk for too long.
Then, as she was almost at the bottom of the escalator, a similar creature to the one from Hollywood and Highland passed right in front of her, looking at her briefly with its absolutely blank and indistinct fact, but it seemed to have no interest in her as it passed on and started up the steps.
Joshua and Simon made it up to the plaza, looking behind to see that it didn’t look like anyone was chasing them — but then the shadow drifted up, overtook them, stopped in front of them and, presumably, stood to face them.
“What?” Simon demanded.
The shadow flickered and became slightly less umbral. Suddenly, there was just a hint of detail, enough for them to see that this appeared to be a short, young man. He was smiling at them and holding his arms out in what was clearly an “Arrest me” gesture.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Simon said, but Joshua had already pulled out a mirror trap and opened it. Looking extremely grateful, the young man leaned forward, went into shadow form, and whooshed right into the mirror with none of the sound and fury of their previous catch.
Joshua screwed the lid on. “Well, that was easy,” he said.
“Too easy,” Simon countered. “I guess we’re walking home from here.”
“I guess,” Joshua replied before adding, “Aw, shit,” making Simon look as well. Another one of those faceless creatures was standing at the top of the stairs, just watching them.
“How the hell did it get out of the station?” Joshua asked.
“We never knew for sure that they couldn’t, just that they didn’t,” Simon explained. “Do you think it’s trying to rescue our guest?”
“You know,” Joshua said, “I think it’s time to find out what these things can do. Here.” He gave the trap to Simon and started for the creature.
“Josh — no!” Simon called out, but to no avail. Joshua was stalking right up to it.
“Hi!” he called out. “Can I help you?”
It stared at him — well, metaphorically — but didn’t move. It seemed suddenly confused, but stood its ground. As Joshua drew closer, it actually seemed to shy away a step or two, and then transformed into the form of a wolf. Well, more of a werewolf, since it was standing on two legs.
“Cute,” Joshua said. “Look, we’d really appreciate it if you’d go back into the station and to wherever you came from. Our business is with… someone who apparently wanted to come along peacefully. So go on. Run along…”
The creature didn’t move, but it did go back to its more benign hooded, faceless form. “Oh my god,” Joshua suddenly said. “You’re not trying to stop us this time, are you? Of course. Simon!”
Seeing that Joshua hadn’t been attacked at all, Simon had already been on his way over. Now he broke into a trot and joined the other two.
“So,” he said to the creature, “Do you have anything to tell us?”
The creature gestured, as if urging them to be on their way and both Simon and Joshua got the sinking feeling that it wanted to follow them home. But before they could reply, there was a sudden loud snap, and then the creature was suddenly covered in arcs of electricity, like one of those plasma lamps. It went rigid and then its form changed to that of a quite normal-looking human woman who just stood there, transfixed.
Without hesitating, Joshua grabbed one of the tools from Simon’s belt, turned it on and aimed. This was one of their more high tech devices, and the creature, whatever it was, vanished into the mouth of the device with a pop. Joshua capped it and turned it off.
With the creature gone, Brenda was visible, standing there with a taser.
“I thought you weren’t a cop,” Simon said.
“I’m not,” she replied. “But I’m also not stupid. You two want to explain?”
“I guess we should,” Simon told her. “But… unofficially, maybe?”
“Oh, by this point, it damn well better be unofficial, because I don’t want anyone at work thinking I’m crazy. Coffee?”
“Sure,” Joshua replied.
There were a lot of coffee places in the area but it was also after three in the morning, so, since Brenda had her city car parked here, they all wound up at the Denny’s a few miles north on Lankershim, a couple of blocks from the NoHo station. Not exactly super-classy, but it seemed like the appropriate place to have this conversation.
* * *
There wasn’t really an official Rêves council, but those who were Class 1 had quickly realized that they really needed to create some sort of hierarchy, and then figure out how to deal with what they had wound up with.
Class 1 and Class 3 were not the problem. The former knew who and what they were, while the latter had no idea who they really were yet, but no problem being who they thought they were. The members of Class 1 thought of them as refugees or recent immigrants, since there had been such a sudden huge increase of their numbers.
The real problem were the members of Class 2, who thought they were more important than they were, had no idea who they really were, and were just generally a pain in the ass.
Meanwhile, while Brenda was having her conversation with Simon and Joshua at Denny’s, there was a sudden emergency meeting that took place in the forecourt of the Grand Mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery — although reluctantly, because this was clearly a place where Class 2’s could try to run roughshod, so it was up to the Class 1’s to get there first, rope the Class 3’s onto their side, and proceed…
That was why the announcement didn’t go out via the underground to the Class 2’s until about an hour after the meeting really started, which was also two hours after Brenda and company had sat down at Denny’s.
By the time the Class 2s did show up, the board had already been established, and they were mostly Chinese and Hispanic. The lower board, meanwhile, had no obvious identities, but a lot of enthusiasm, and the Class 2s had little say in the matter.
The real issue was that a lot of their kind, mostly Class 2s, were being kidnapped and trapped by various rogue hunters, for unknown reasons, and the group was meeting to figure out what to do.
Richard, who was on the upper board, explained what Anabel had explained to Preston earlier. He had been a wise choice for this position because, while he shared a lot of the attributes of Class 2, he had the family connections to keep him firmly in Class 1.
“As far as we know,” he said, “There are not secuestros, kidnappings. Nobody has demanded a ransom or made any demands at all — ”
“At least not as far as we can tell,” a woman on the board named Yut Ho added. While Richard didn’t know her personally — she had died long before he was even born — he had heard her story. Her abduction led to a gunfight between two rival companies in Chinatown, inadvertently killing a white man in the crossfire. This led to the Chinese Massacre of 1871, as a group of white people, many immigrants, invade Old Chinatown and proceeded to burn, loot, and lynch.
Seventeen people were lynched, ten perpetrators were brought to trial, eight were convicted — and every one of their sentences was overturned on a technicality. He hadn’t learned that from her, though. She never talked about it.
He had learned it from an historian who had worked for the city of L.A. until his death in the early 1980s. Specifically, he specialized in Hispanic, Latin, and Chicano history and culture in the city, particularly centered around the original Pueblo downtown.
The first Chinatown in Los Angeles had started on land leased from a Mexican family that owned agricultural land around the Pueblo, and it was founded long before California even became a state, when it was still part of Mexico. Eventually, Old Chinatown would be destroyed to make room for Union Station, the fancy new train depot that connected the newly thriving entertainment capital to the rest of the country. The New Chinatown would move farther east.
Richard couldn’t help but wonder if these disappearances weren’t in a similar vein to all of those situations where a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group would be driven off of their land in order to make room to “improv” it i.e., make it more profitable to already wealthy people.
Hell, he had lived long enough to actually see the Battle of Chavez Ravine and read about it for almost every day of his life. It lasted from when he was about five until he was fifteen, and it was the same story. Rich people decide they want a piece of land to put something on, never mind that people already live and have a community there.
Ironically, the original intent had been to build public housing in the Ravine, but once the people had been removed, the voters of Los Angeles said “No.” They didn’t want no public housing, dammit, and a newly-elected conservative mayor agreed. Hell, being anti-public housing was part of his platform.
And so, Dodger Stadium happened instead, and it housed exactly no one.
Not that the people were originally happy about that, but they failed to ultimately vote against it.
It had been thirty years since the Rêves had made their arrangement with another L.A. Mayor who was really conservative in name only, so they allowed the Metro system to be built through their territory as long as they were allowed to inhabit it and use it for their own purposes.
They even agreed to protect it from acts of terrorism, and these were the only times, short of protecting one of their own, that they would show themselves to humans. They never even pointed these instances out to the authorities. They just made sure that they didn’t happen.
Since 1993, they had averted seven would-be acts of terrorism, including bombings, mass-shootings, and one bio-chemical attack. Funny how many of the would-be terrorists flung themselves before oncoming trains once a Rêve or two made an appearance.
The discussion continued, with the Class 3s being the most gung-ho to go out and figure out what was going on, while the Class 2s were most interested in making nice with the humans.
“They’re not all bad, after all,” one of them, who had been an iconic actress until her premature death, announced in a breathy voice that was the public perception of her but not at all reality. “I mean, I liked them once. I was one!”
“We all were, Norma,” one of the board members replied with full bitchy venom. That would be Holden Sutter. Not generally known to the public at large, but a famous and larger-than-life camp figure of the late 50s and early 60s who hosted the most amazing parties up in the Hollywood Hills.
The public never knew him, but all of hidden gay Hollywood did, and so did a lot of not-hidden straight Hollywood. He could get you anything you wanted, legal or not — men, women, weed, coke, opium. He also had dirt on absolutely everyone, and referred to himself as The Bullet-Proof Bitch.
That turned out to be not so much the case when he was murdered in 1967. Officially, a couple of punks had heard about “this rich fag up in the hills,” pretended to be rent boys in order to get inside, then knocked him unconscious, tied him up, and proceeded to grab and pack anything valuable they could get their eyes on.
Holden died not from a knock on the head but because they had left him on his back, he vomited while unconscious and proceeded to aspirate and die.
But, of course, everyone in the industry, and especially in the gay demi-monde, just “knew” that Holden had been murdered by some politician he had threatened to blackmail, usually a City Council Member said to be fond of the boys, sometimes a U.S. Senator, and that the two perpetrators, who were never caught, were actually his lovers.
Of course, if anyone asked Holden now, he would just laugh. “Oh, silly twats,” he’d reply. “No. It was nothing so sordid. Daddy got greedy and hired two really hot stripper twinks to come on up and have a good time. One was both 19, the other was 16. I was 67. I came and went and then they left, but I died a very happy man.”
This story had always stuck with Richard not because it was so sordid but because it was exactly the opposite. There was no great big conspiracy anywhere — just a tale of natural human weakness, and how the Reaper is often summoned by one’s own needs.
But if there wasn’t any vast conspiracy going on, who was grabbing the Rêves, and why? And why were so many of them Class 2?
Then there was a sudden commotion as a Class 1 burst onto the scene from underground. Richard recognized her as Anabel’s great-grand-niece. He thought her name was Cyntoia, but wasn’t quite sure.
All eyes turned to her as she looked at them nervously.
“Anabel!” she announced, panicking. “Anabel. They’ve taken Anabel!”
There was an audible gasp. They’d all been wondering why she hadn’t been here because she was, in fact, head of the board and president of the council. That would explain it.
“Well fuck me sideways,” Holden muttered.
“What do we do now?” Yut Ho asked, but no one replied.
* * *