You can catch up with the first installment of this piece 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. We’re racing toward the finale now.
Planting a seed
After Anabel had summoned Pearl and explained why, Pearl looked at the body that was still lying on the table prior to being loaded into the casket.
“Do we know him?” they asked.
“I don’t think you’ve ever met,” Anabel explained, “But he and his… partner used to work for Ausmann — ”
“So now he has a spy on the inside?”
“No, no,” Anabel countered. “I think the opposite. From what I’ve heard from Preston and Danny, Simon and the other one had decided they needed to stop Ausmann as well. So they’re on our side, and now we have the spy.”
“Well, we don’t yet,” Pearl said. “Poor thing won’t come back as a Rêve until he’s been buried, and even then it’s not necessarily instantaneous.”
“You think I don’t know that, Pearl?” Anabel replied.
“Of course not.” Pearl circled the table, looked at a clipboard nearby, then announced, “Monday. His funeral is Monday, which is the day after tomorrow. So he might not be joining us for a few days yet. Any idea where his partner is?” they asked.
“No,” Anabel replied, “But I think that Preston and Danny have kind of become infatuated with him. You know — playing bodyguard and all that, especially after Simon was murdered.”
“He was murdered?” Pearl replied, incredulous.
“Yes, by Ausmann,” Anabel explained.
“Why didn’t you say that at first?”
“I thought that everyone knew!” Anabel replied. “Sorry!”
“All right,” Pearl huffed. “Preston and Danny, probably with Simon’s partner, who was…?”
“Joshua. And he’s still an ‘is.’”
“Right,” Pearl replied. “And… partner ‘business’ or partner ‘screwing?’”
“What?” Anabel exclaimed. “Hell, I don’t know. Ask Preston. Or Danny. And does it make a difference?”
“Only because if it’s the latter, the two of them will get along great with the Hadas. Not to mention go all Band of Thebes when it comes to war. All right. To Preston and Danny it is, and here’s hoping his partner is with them. Meanwhile, you keep an eye on Simon’s container, and let me know the second that he’s transformed, okay?” Without another word Pearl turned away, concentrated for a second, then vanished.
“Yeah, thanks,” Anabel fumed. How dare Pearl give her the grunt work. On the other hand, Simon was almost as beautiful in death as he had been in life, so there was at least that.
For his part, Ausmann was growing impatient. With Simon now one of… them… and reunited with his boyfriend, they should have been able to track down and deliver Lorre by now. It was, of course, a sign of his disordered and paranoid mind that it took him a while to realize, “Oh. Shit. How?”
He hadn’t given them a way to find him and deliver the goods, and for good reason, lest the goods he got came at the end of gun barrels from officers either city, county, state, or federal, or all of the above.
He thought about it for a second and realized that he was only one murder away from fitting the FBI definition of Serial Killer.
But he’d killed Simon on Wednesday and now it was Saturday, so surely he should be back already. Ausmann would have to look into that personally.
Fortunately, he had acquired a bunch of books on disguise and make-up and, since it was late August, that meant that all of the Halloween shops were already open for business, so he’d dropped into one on Bunker Hill that had managed to avoid any flood damage, and stocked up on all of the high-end professional stuff. Basically, anything that would defeat facial recognition.
One corner of his hotel room looked like the wardrobe and make-up departments of an indie production company — racks of clothes; and Styrofoam heads covered in tons of wigs, male and female. In the inevitable space between the hall closet and the bathroom, a ring light turned the vanity table into an impromptu make-up station.
So on Saturday afternoon, he glanced through his arsenal and decided on a disguise that would get him back to Joshua’s place undetected. This one actually involved some de-aging, but he was up for the challenge. By the end of it, he looked like a typical 30-ish hipster, complete with face scruff, black plastic-rimmed glasses, a culturally inappropriate man-bun, and carrying, but not riding, a longboard.
He should be good to pass on mass transit, so he made his way to the nearest Metro station to head to NoHo.
Joshua, Preston, and Danny had been pseudo-cuddling on the couch, watching the original Ghostbusters, when the air suddenly popped and this strange woman appeared in front of the screen.
Well, strange at first to Joshua until his brain did the math, but very familiar to Preston and Danny, who ran over and hugged her their mother had just come home.
As Pearl smiled at them, Joshua suddenly caught it… “Janis Joplin?” he whispered.
She… well, he was thinking “she” — pointed at him and hissed. “Pearl,” they replied. “And my pronouns are they, their, and them.”
“Oh, sorry,” Joshua replied, “Of course, I should have asked.” He sank into the sofa and smiled. “But, I mean… you are… were Janis Joplin, right? in some way…?”
“I was, now I’m not. Now we are. That’s how it goes, sunshine. Meanwhile, more important questions. It seems that you, your late partner — ”
“Husband,” Joshua interjected.
“Husband,” Pearl corrected, “Sorry, I assumed as well. You, your husband, and we are allies in this battle against Ausmann.”
“Damn right,” Joshua said. “He killed Simon. My husband. So fuck him.”
“And do you know how you’re going to defeat him yet?” Pearl asked.
“Not quite,” Joshua said, “But I’m close. He made a demand before he killed Simon, but I think we can fulfill it and turn it against him at the same time. I just need Simon to show up as one of you first.”
“Ah,” Pearl said. “Well, that’s not going to happen until after he’s buried, which I understand is Monday?”
“What?” Joshua asked, startled. “Why does it take so long?”
“Simple,” Pearl said. “The seed can’t sprout until it’s been planted.”
“Seriously?” Joshua replied.
“Seriously,” Pearl explained. “It has to do with returning to Earth. And why do you think the Hadas are so different than the Rêves?”
“The Hadas were all cremated, so they didn’t go into the Earth, just onto it. But, back to the important question. What was Ausmann’s demand?”
“To bring him Peter Lorre. Well, his Rêve. Oh… is that the right way to say it?”
“The Rêve Peter Lorre, thanks for asking. But… why?”
“He didn’t say, actually. But I can’t help but think that it has to do with the whole Class thing, and if we can find real Peter Lorre instead of movie Peter Lorre — ”
“But since he died almost sixty years ago, I doubt that there are many people around who remember the real him who could bring him to Class III.”
“Oh…” Joshua looked at her with a sudden realization, but he didn’t want to blow an Ace in the Hole that might not pay off. “So… Simon won’t be back until after the funeral?”
“No,” Pearl said. “Sorry. But he will be back.”
“Will it really be him, though?” Joshua asked.
Pearl gave him a long look, then replied, “It will be the he that you’ve held in your heart for all these years, and your love and memories that will sustain him. He will be back, as the best version of him he can be, because… well… because…”
“So… not him at all,” Joshua scoffed.
“Au contraire, mon frere,” Pearl said. “More him than you’ve ever known.”
“You better be right,” Joshua said.
“Darling, I admire your chutzpah, as they’d say in New York, although in good ol’ Port Arthur Texas, we’d just say ‘balls.’ I think you and Simon are going to win this thing for us.”
She turned to Danny and Preston, stroking each of their cheeks, then said, “Take good care of this one,” before vanishing in a puff of purple smoke.
“Wow,” Joshua muttered. “Could shit today get any weirder?”
That was when somebody rang them from downstairs and, when he went to check who it was on cam, he saw some weird, ancient skater dude, so he replied on the intercom via his phone.
“What?” he demanded.
“Joshua, it’s me. Ausmann. Just checking in.”
“Have you managed to find Lorre yet?” Ausmann asked.
“Of course not,” Joshua said.
“Can I come up?”
“Only if you want to fly down,” Joshua told him.
“Fair enough,” Ausmann demurred. “But what about Lorre?”
“Well, first of all,” Joshua explained, “I can’t do that without Rêve Simon, but apparently he’s not going to show up until after his funeral on Monday. Second, we kind of need to find some dead celebrity neither of us knows, so keep your panties on, cool your jets, and just be glad that I don’t report your ass to the police for murdering my husband.”
“Don’t…? You mean… you haven’t?”
“Exactly. Because that’s my ace in the hole on you, motherfucker. So, tell you what. Give me your text number, or whatever you prefer, and when we find Lorre, we will call you. Otherwise, stay the fuck away. ¿Me comprendes, pendejo?”
“So, I’ll hear from you on Monday?” Ausmann asked.
“You’ll hear from us when you hear from us, dipshit. Now what’s the number?”
Ausmann gave Joshua the number for his current burner cellphone, and Joshua thanked him before saying, “Okay. Now go on back to your hidey-hole at the Alexandria and I’ll text you when we have something.”
Ausmann almost felt his heart fall out his asshole when Joshua spilled the beans so casually on knowing where he’d been, so he hopped onto the longboard and took off as fast as he could for the Metro Station — which was a short but very undignified trip.
As Joshua hung up, Danny and Preston laughed their asses off.
“What?” Joshua asked.
“That last bit was intentional from what we told you, wasn’t it?” Preston asked.
“Make him run like hell,” Danny added.
“Oh, fuck yeah, boys. Why should he feel one second of safe?”
“And why should you not feel all the seconds?” Preston said as he and Danny moved in on Joshua, placing their hands on his head again.
“Oh, guys, come on, this is a little wei — ” Joshua started to say until his knees went wobbly and his brain turned into an endless loop of his own voice repeating “Ung.”
The real satisfaction came later, though — they had truly cornered Ausmann, and really held all the cards.
They spent the rest of the evening and all of Sunday in, Joshua catching Danny and Preston up on various shows and films they’d missed. There was really no reason to go out until the funeral. The whole thing reminded Joshua of the lost year back in 2020-21, when he and Simon had stayed home most of the time, having everything delivered and not doing any Rêve hunting at all.
Ausmann had fled back to his hidey-hole, wondering all the way whether Joshua was going to send the cops after him or not. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to find him by name. Then again, he knew of at least eight hotels within a four-block radius he could relocate to if necessary.
He still took the precaution of telling the concierge to keep an eye out for any kind of law enforcement who “Come looking for this man.” He handed the young man a card with his own name written on it. “Let’s just say that I’m looking for him, too, and I’d like to find him first. My cell number is on the back. Call me if they show up. And this should cover the cost of the call.”
He slipped a tightly folded hundred dollar bill into the concierge’s hand, but the short, young, cute, curly-haired man with the wide face and big eyes, whose nametag read Bacchus, quickly realized that Ben Franklin had come with four siblings. “Yes, sir!” he replied, pocketing the money. “First sign, I’ll let you know. And I’ll tell the other two shifts to be on the lookout.”
“Thank you,” Ausmann said, heading back up to his room. ==
Out in Simi Valley, the local police detectives spent all day Saturday still trying to decide whether there was a case for murder or some other foul play in Coraline Schliemann’s death, but they were still unsure about it.
On the one hand, she was heavily insured, with all kinds of indemnities that exactly matched the apparent circumstances. On the other hand, nobody had come forward yet to collect on those policies. The only one who could was Ausmann himself, but if he didn’t within ninety days, then the payout would go to a designated family trust.
“Hard to believe he wouldn’t take care of that right away,” Captain Lewis said.
“Unless he’s dead,” Detective Davis offered.
“Or very inconvenienced,” Lewis countered. “He did have his house blown apart.”
“I wonder whether he didn’t wander out into the storm for help, and something happened.”
“You did send someone out to his place of work, right?”
“Yeah, JPL,” Davis explained, “But we had to let Pasadena PD lead. And deal with the campus police. He wasn’t there, and nobody could remember when they’d last seen him around. The guards weren’t even there to let anyone in to look.”
“I’ve been in this business long enough to know when to trust my gut instincts, especially on cases like this. You know what my gut is telling me?” she asked.
“I have a pretty good idea,” Davis replied.
“Older couple, adult kids out of the house, pretty affluent according to the neighbors and public records, he’s got some mysterious government job, and his house — and wife — are insured out the wazoo. Like, way over-insured. He seems to work late hours, and on weekends, which tells me that he could be having an affair — ”
“The JPL angle must work wonders with some girls,” Davis offered.
“You’d be surprised,” Lewis shot back. “On top of all that, there’s the weird little detail that out of all of the houses in the neighborhood — hell, in the entire city of Simi, and in all of Ventura County, his is the only one that seemed to suffer the particular wrath of the storm.”
“That is a bit suspect.”
“Right? And that goes back to the way over-insured angle.”
“So what’s your gut telling you” Davis asked her.
“It’s telling me that he is guilty as fuck of uxoricide.”
“That’s a new one.”
“Where’s your Latin?” Lewis asked him. “It’s the wife version of homicide. I’m thinking that he somehow managed to destroy the house, bludgeon her and leave her in the wreckage, and then take off into the night.”
“But how could one man destroy a house like that? I mean, so completely?” Davis asked. “Really big sledge hammer?”
“Really big storm to distract from the noise,” Lewis said. “Oh. You probably didn’t see this yet.” She slid over a file folder with a bulletin in it. “This showed up Tuesday afternoon from San Berdoo County. Explosion and fire completely destroyed a small house up there. Three guesses who the owner was.”
Davis read the document, then just muttered, “Fuuuck.”
“So, he’s quite capable of destroying a house. And given how loud that storm was — which all of the neighbors described in great detail — the sound of demotion and the sight of explosions would have hidden in the thunder and lightning.”
“He killed her,” Davis stated flatly.
“That’s why my gut says,” Lews replied. “But the really big problem is that there is absolutely no forensic evidence that he did demolish the house — no starters or explosive residues or anything at all. We do have evidence of plenty of direct hits by lightning, though, and the pieces we’ve found scattered all over the place don’t show any fire or smoke damage.. Those appear to have been ripped off by wind.”
“Then what’s next?” Davis asked her.
“I guess we meet with the DA on Monday,” Lewis said. “Show her what we’ve got, and see what her gut says.”
“You know that I’d love to nail this asshole as much as you would, right?” Davis asked.
“Damn right, skippy!” she smiled.
“So, what do you want for dinner tonight?” he asked.
“I’m kind of in the mood for Mexican,” she said. “But once we and the kids are all home, please. We are not discussing this one at all, deal?”
“Deal,” he said, “Love you,” and then he kissed his wife on the cheek and left her office.
Johnny Ramone and Ritchie Valens had hit it off when they met at the Rêve war council, and so had taken to hanging out since then, usually near one or the other of their graves, just for shits and giggles.
Of course, it had been a weird dynamic because, in their Rêve form, Ritchie was only 17, while Johnny was 55 and, while he could have appeared much younger if he’d wanted to, he didn’t want to. Now, to Johnny, Ritchie had been an influence down through the ages while, to Ritchie, Johnny was an older person, so naturally deserved respect.
So each of them was super-deferential to the other for their own reasons at first until they both realized how being a Rêve really played with the generational thing. After all, Johnny had been only ten years old when Ritchie died in a plane crash in Iowa, but he was 23 when Don McLean’s American Pie came out, and unraveling the mystery to those lyrics led him directly to learning about Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens.
“What do you think is going to happen with this whole thing?” Ritchie asked him as they hung out at the San Fernando Mission cemetery.
“Honestly, I think that the Class II’s are going to get their asses handed to them if they sell out to the Vivants,” Johnny replied. “They don’t know it, but Ausmann only wants to destroy them all.”
“Aren’t there more of them than us?” Ritchie asked.
“Oh, you don’t know your Andy Warhol, do you?”
“’In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ That’s what he said… well, wrote. And it’s definitely true by now. Which means that more celebrities have been created in the last fifty years than in all time before that. Which also means…?”
He left it hanging and Ritchie thought about it before the lightbulb went off. “There are more famous dead people who are Class III now, and not on the side of the Vivants?”
Johnny paused before he laughed. “Nah, dude, I’m just fucking with you. Most of those people are still alive. No… it’s this one. Regular folk always outnumber the famous. That’s just how it is, right? At any point in time — handful of famous, fuckton of not. But… the not famous people were well-known by their friends and loved ones, hence Class I is the dominant force, and Class II, as always, are deluding themselves.”
“What about us?” Ritchie asked.
“Oh, we, the Class IIIs, have the best of both worlds,” he said. “Above the fray, but clearly on the right side, which is the anti-Vivant side.”
“Viva los Rêves!” Ritchie shouted.
“Mort aux Vivants!” Johnny replied.
“This one or this one?” Brenda asked, holding first one, then another hat over her head. The first was a purple pill-box with a short veil over the face and fascinator on top. The other was a red cloche with matching feather held with a gold clasp on the left side.
“Oh, honey, I don’t know shit about fashion,” Jonah said. “Go ask our daughter.”
“I thought you might have an opinion about which hat I look prettier in,” she said.
“Whichever hat you be wearing while you’re butt-ass naked,” he replied.
“You are saucy,” she snapped back.
“It’s why you love me,” he said. “Anyway, why you always gotta be running off to do this church shit on Sunday when you don’t believe a word of it?”
“I do it for my mother,” Brenda replied. “And the gossip at the coffee afterwards, of course!”
“They got some good shit there?”
“The coffee or the gossip?”
“The second one,” he replied.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It really should be tea instead of coffee, because that’s what gets spilled big time.”
“What they say about me?” Jonah asked.
“Just that you’re the luckiest man on Earth because I’m your wife.”
“Bullshit!” he laughed.
“Don’t believe me? Come with us.”
“Sorry,” Jonah said. “I’d burst into flames if I walked in there.”
“Honey,” Brenda told him, “Why you think I always wear asbestos panties?”
“’Cause if you were any hotter down there, the Sun would have too much competition. Duh!”
“Eyes up here. Last call on the hat vote. Really, which one, with this dress?”
She held the hats up again and he gave them both serious looks, finally picking the purple one. “I think this, because it hides your face.”
“What?” she exclaimed. “Oh, so now I’m ugly?”
“No, baby, you’re beautiful. So I don’t want no other men looking at you.”
“Well, honestly, this church, I don’t think a straight man has shown up since 1997.” She paused, then laughed. “So maybe it’s best that you don’t go in case you get some man looking at you.”
“I don’t know, honey. Some of them dudes on Drag Race are… you know. Kind of — ”
“Stop!” She playfully slapped his arm, put on the purple hat, and did her best sashay away, just to remind him what would get his tail wagging when she came back home.
She met Esme in the living room and, as usual, her mother was dressed to the nines, make-up perfect, and not in that garish way that some older women over-did it in a misguided effort to look younger. Esme was stunning. Brenda took her arm and they walked out, down the street and down the hill to the church.
Of course, while Brenda didn’t believe any of the religious hocus pocus going on, the reason she was able to support her mother and come with her was that this was a place that went for Socialist Jesus instead of Republican Jesus — they had actively supported same-sex marriage when that had been an issue, had run a free AIDS hospice since the early 90s, encouraged members of the congregation to take in homeless people as well as adopt babies that might otherwise have been aborted, and on top of all that, my god, the choir!
The choir alone was worth the price of admission, along with their backing band, Shofar Shogood — yes, all six members came from a local synagogue and were Jewish — and they were not averse to tossing in a show tune or two now and then, with songs from Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar being regular repeaters.
Brenda was totally convinced that if she could ever get Jonah and the younger kids to come along that they would just love the hell out of it, because it was theatre of the highest order, and Pastor Rivera, who was Filipino, gave sermons that were wildly entertaining, energetic and, most of all, totally inclusive.
Then again, so was the congregation. This wasn’t a Black church. This was an everyone church and, as far as she could tell, there was an equal mix of Black, white, Asian, and Hispanic.
If Jesus had ever existed, he would have loved the place.
Right around the time that Esme’s church was passing the plate and the choir was singing Day by Day, Joshua shot up and awoke from a nightmare. He had fallen asleep while they’d been watching Sister Act.
Preston and Danny were there in a heartbeat. “Are you all right?” they both asked, in unison.
“What if he doesn’t come back?” Joshua asked. In his dream, he had been in the cemetery for the funeral, and the pallbearers had brought the casket to the grave but, instead of lowering it like normal, they opened the lid and flipped Simon’s obviously decayed body out like so much trash into the hole, which was then unceremoniously filled in by a loud, obnoxious beeping backhoe.
When the dirt had been filled in, Joshua flung himself onto it, in tears, and then a hand reared up, grasping, but it was completely skeletal. Reluctantly, Joshua took it.
“Is that you, Simon?” he asked. But then the bony fingers squeezed and he started bleeding and trying to pull away. Then the hand pulled hard and dragged him down face first into the dirt and the Earth and darkness and a kind of death before he woke up choking and screaming.
“Are you all right?” Danny and Preston asked, almost in unison.
“No!” Joshua replied. “Hold me?” he asked.
And so they did, as best they could, and made sure, whenever he did manage to drift off into sleep, to use all of their powers to fend off any other nightmares.
Thus did Joshua manage to make it to the most difficult day of his life.
Monday. The last Monday in August. The day of Simon’s funeral or, as someone more optimistic put it, the planting of his seed. But, right now, that just smelled like total bullshit.