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.
It obviously wasn’t a work or school day for anyone after the storm, although the internet was still up at the house, so Brenda and Jonah retired to their respective home offices to check in and see what was going on.
Meanwhile, Esme took Samuel and Malia on a tour of the front and back yards respectively to figure out what had been lost and damaged.
Brenda got the news almost immediately via a county bulletin: All Metro lines were closed, buses and at-grade trains due to extensive flooding, and the entire subway system due to even worse flooding. Drivers, station workers, and the like were put on furlough with full emergency pay until further notice.
Meanwhile, people like Brenda were only expected to keep tabs of their email, and consider themselves on-call.
That wonderful delusion ended ten minutes after she logged on that afternoon, when she got a text from Rita.
“URGENT!” it said. “Call me ASAP, away from earshot.”
“Damn,” Brenda said as she grabbed her cell and headed outside and down the street. At least they hadn’t gotten any flooding up here on top of the hill.
After she’d walked a block, she dialed Rita, who picked up immediately. “Hit me,” she said.
“Remember that project I mentioned? The one we wanted you to run?”
“Yeah, don’t remind me,” Brenda said. “What?”
“Well, somebody seems to think they got it on good authority that this little, um… weather anomaly is a direct result of the entities that they wanted to task you all with hunting down.”
“Oh, hell no,” Brenda said, but Rita continued.
“Plus, missy, it’s been booted up to state level. Direct report to the Governor hisself, and they are considering creating a state cabinet position for it right now.”
“Look, I have no idea what caused that storm, okay?” Brenda said. “You’re asking the wrong person.”
“Right. You still haven’t come through with your two little steam-punk boys — ”
“Rita, they are grown-ass men. Don’t talk about them like that.”
“Are you sassing me?”
“If that’s some kind of boss to employee threat, you really shouldn’t make it in the same breath that you’re offering me a job that will bounce me five hundred steps above your ass, should you?” Brenda replied. There was a long pause.
“Lordie,” Rita finally said, “You damn well better take this one, girl. It could see you as governor in four years.”
“I don’t want to be the governor,” Brenda snapped back. “I don’t want to save the world. I just want to enjoy the career I’ve got, be the best mother I can to my kids, and keep my family together and happy. Understand?”
“Understood. But last I heard, when weird supernatural forces were out to destroy the world with apocalyptic storms, the best way to keep a family together and happy was to go out and defeat that shit. And you and your team — and yes, I mean those gay boys — are the ones to do it. Do you understand?”
“I don’t even know where to — ”
“Stop,” Rita said. “I just emailed you their address. And, tell you what. I’ll forget your sass and all that if you don’t take the position, but I would very much appreciate it if you could get both of them on a Zoom call with me within, oh, say… forty-eight hours.”
“What?” Brenda shot back. “You don’t have their email or number?”
“Oddly enough,” Rita replied, “No.”
“And the city is flooded and shut down,” Brenda reminded her, “So how the hell am I supposed to get to them?”
“If you figure that one out,” Rita replied, “I’ll knock you up three paygrades.”
She hung up and Brenda restrained herself from tossing her phone into the street, but not from shouting, “Bitch!”
That’s when she turned to see that Esme and the kids were in the front yard, probably not close enough to have heard the conversation, but close enough to have heard the aftermath.
“Oh, hi, Mom!” she said. “Didn’t see you there. How are you doing?”
“Fine,” Esme replied. “And you? Don’t answer. Kids, go inside and write down all the stuff we found wrecked. Your parents will need to know.”
Samuel and Malia nodded and ran inside. Esme walked out into the street to Brenda.
“Spill that tea?” she said.
“Oh, Mom,” Brenda replied, “How can an offer come along that is just so unbelievably incredible and yet totally fucked up at the same time?”
Esme just laughed. “Dear, that is the kind of thing that happens all the time. Let’s take a little walk, see what’s up with the neighborhood, and discuss it, okay?”
Brenda just nodded. Esme held her daughter’s arm as they started a long, slow stroll through the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Jonah had found out that it was going to be business as usual, albeit remotely until streets were cleared. He was suddenly strangely grateful for everything they had learned during the plague, which hadn’t stopped any of his company’s construction projects at all while sending all of the designers and draftspeople off to work from home, which had actually become mostly the norm since then.
He pulled up a current design for low-income housing his firm was working on to be built on the west side. Nothing fancy, just a wood-frame block of flats, designed to accommodate a lot of families and rent cheap, something the developers were only willing to do with a heavy government handout, of course.
Every time Jonah heard one of these fat cats privately bitch about being forced to “put up welfare queens and their broods,” as they would say when they thought he wasn’t in ear-shot, the more he just wanted to punch them out, but he restrained his anger.
The biggest welfare queens were these same rich bitches who lobbied to get their property taxes cut to practically nothing, get gigantic subsidies on utilities, publicly complained about “illegals” while using nothing but undocumented immigrants on their construction crews — paying them way below what union workers would have gotten — and quite often grabbed up choice pieces of land via eminent domain, never mind that it was already covered with apartments with people who couldn’t afford to move anywhere else in the city when they got evicted.
“Motherfuckers,” Jonah often muttered under his breath. His firm had tried to do it different, but it was so difficult being in a profession that had to deal with the City Council and County Board of Supervisors, who were all some of the most corrupt people Jonah had ever met.
He had often considered running for office, but then wondered if the mere process of campaigning and getting elected turned out to be a deal with the devil, so he decided to do what he could from the inside, and last night’s storm suddenly threw a red flag in front of his face as he looked at the plans for the Sepulveda Arms Apartments.
On paper — at least in words — they looked amazing. It was a series of eight six-story buildings, arranged on three acres, with three buildings fronting their long sides on the north-south streets, and three fronting their short sides along the east-west side streets, a city block in front and a half block on the sides. The building sized gap in the middle was intended to create urban park land, with a swimming pool, community areas, and so on.
But… translate those words on paper to plans on a blueprint that an architect could read, and Jonah suddenly saw how this would not do at all.
First off, it violated the two golden rules of L.A. construction that had been learned through many earthquakes: “Thou shalt not build between four and eight stories, for such heights doth shake most mightily.”
The other rule: “Thou shalt not build the car stables beneath such housings, lest they fall into the ground even more mightily.”
In other words, four to eight story buildings with underground parking were the absolute worst things you could possibly build in L.A., especially for residential property.
But there was more, and again the storm had armed Jonah perfectly for it. If the flooding and winds and everything else were a harbinger of things to come because of climate change, a place like Sepulveda Arms would blow over in a New York minute.
They were designed for a temperate climate with little rain or wind and no thunderstorms, and he noticed that the bid used the cheapest of materials for the walls, windows, and doors. Anything resembling a mere tropical storm would take the façade off of the place in a second, not to mention flood the garages beneath.
He marked up all of his issues on the digital blueprints, wrote out his concerns, then sent it back to the design committee.
Meanwhile, Esme and Brenda had walked for a while in silence before Esme finally said, “My rose garden is gone.”
“Oh, Mom,” Brenda replied. “I’m so sorry.”
“So are the children’s herb and vegetable garden.”
“Oh no. Are they okay?”
“Yes,” Esme said. “I talked to them, and we all agreed. Flowers and vegetables and herbs will grow wherever you plant them, and if they get torn up in one place, you can always take them to another.”
“I don’t want to move my garden,” Brenda replied. “My roots are here. My family.”
“Why would you have to move?” Esme asked.
“Rita is hinting that they’re going to offer me a state job. One with a much higher profile.”
“And a lot more money, I hope,” Esme added.
“It’s not always about money, Mom,” she said. “Although Rita did hint at that. But I don’t want to move to Sacramento. Sure, it’s the state capital, but it’s a provincial little shithole.”
“Well, they can’t move the capital to L.A. But why would you have to move, anyway?”
“I’d expect that my office would be there.”
“You know offices don’t mean a thing anymore,” Esme explained. “You just need a place to be on those rare occasions when you have to go up there in person. Make your deal right, and those could be as rare as you wanted.”
“I suppose,” Brenda answered. “And maybe I’m just over-reacting. I mean, Rita did say ‘considering,’ not ‘offering.’”
“Your boss with Metro?”
“So why is she offering you a state job when she’s county?”
“She’s not, Mom. She’s just the messenger.”
“I didn’t even know the state had anything like the Metro. Oh — is it high-speed rail?” Esme asked.
“No. Actually, it’s about what caused the storm.”
Esme stopped walking and looked at Brenda with an expression of happy shock. She covered her mouth and stared for a beat. Then, “Oh my lord, dear. You mean figuring out what caused it?”
“We know what caused it. This has to do with keeping it from happening again.
“That is amazing news, actually,” Esme gushed. “Moving from working the subways to saving the environment? How can you say no?”
“It’s not exactly saving the — ”
“Brenda, if you don’t take a job like that where you can directly save the planet, then I will kick your ass. Understand?”
Brenda just sighed. This hadn’t turned out very helpful. “Let’s go home, Mom,” she said. “The kids are probably starving.”
“Lord knows, I am,” Esme answered with a laugh, but Brenda suddenly wasn’t in the mood.
* * *
Anabel v Jezebel
The usual collection of Class II old school stars had gathered again — this time quite openly at Hollywood Forever, and they brought a few more folk along with them. Naturally, Bette held court as Bette was wont to do, but for some reason decided to go full-on Baby Jane Hudson mode today.
“So now you see what those goddamn faeries want to do to us,” she bellowed in fine form.
“You shouldn’t call them that,” Marilyn intoned, in her more demure character from Bus Stop.
“It’s what they call themselves, you stupid slut,” Bette shot back. “Las hadas. That is literally ‘the faeries’ in Spanish. And their full name for themselves is the savage faeries — ”
“More like just the wild faeries,” someone called out. It was Ritchie Valens, who technically hadn’t been invited, but unfortunately was technically qualified, since he was Class III.
“Who the hell let that beaner in?” a voice called out, and everyone turned to see that it was Harold Lloyd, then turned as another voice boomed out.
“Unfucking cool, asshole,” a voice called out and while most of the old school crew didn’t recognize him, they still recognized that he was one of them.
“And who might you be?” Lloyd asked.
“A musician, like Ritchie here,” he replied. “He’s never heard of me either, but he certainly had an influence on me and my band. My name is Johnny Ramone,” he said. “I’m buried right over there, and I will not tolerate any second class racist fuckheads spouting that shit off, no matter who they thought they were when they were alive. ¿Comprende?”
“Don’t you know who I am?” the pasty-faced spirit demanded.
“Yeah,” Johnny replied. “Same as me. You are fucking dead and, honestly, the number of living people who remember you is going to shrink really rapidly really fast, so don’t get cocky.”
“I don’t appreciate your language, young man,” Lloyd spat back.
“And I don’t appreciate you being a hateful cunt trapped in your generation.”
Lloyd just stared at the young apparition with the woman’s hair and leather jacket, then sank back down. Meanwhile, Bette felt total admiration and Rudolph felt total lust.
“You were saying?” Johnny turned to Bette and she suddenly morphed into her character from Jezebel, red dress and all.
“What I was saying,” she continued, “Is that there is a plot against us, and it’s led by those people who still have direct connections to the living world. You know the ones. Class I. Hah! Little people, never famous, only remembered by their families. And they have put themselves in league with the… what did you call them, Mr. Valens?”
“Las hadas selvajes,” Ritchie replied.
“Right, that. The ones who died without even anyone remembering them, and who were scattered to the four winds and… look what they managed to do. This storm? This scourge that swept the city? That was them, and it was fully backed by the Class I Rêves… traitors… like Anabel.”
This got the crowd grumbling even as it kept growing, and some of the newest members who were Class III — famous but remembered by loved ones as well — started to pop up.
It was starting to feel like an Oscar “In Memoriam” reel, actually, but maybe that was encouraging.
“So what do we do?” Bette called out. “How do we stop it?” she demanded, but the crowd just looked back at her blankly.
Finally, Marilyn piped up, doing her shtick from All About Eve, in which she was a mere bit player in a Bette Davis tour de force. “We have to ally with the ones who keep us here,” she intoned breathily.
“Exactly!” Bette agreed.
“The living humans,” Marilyn continued.
“Amen!” Bette shouted, and the crowd assented.
They really didn’t need to take an official vote, but it was decided. Anabel and any of her allies — all of the Hadas, all Class I, and any traitorous Class III’s — were now considered enemies. This put the Class III’s who were present in the awkward situation of throwing their lot in with the Class II’s right now, or fleeing without being attacked.
But before any of them could make a decision, a stream of black mist came flying into the meeting and manifested itself as a woman. Well, at least the top half of one, everything below her waist hovering above the ground on a column of black smoke.
“Trust humans?” she scoffed loudly. “Really? This is what they did to me when I was alive. But that’s nothing compared to what they tried to do to me afterwards.”
“W-w-who are you?” Jimmy asked, back as George Bailey.
“She’s The Black Dahlia,” Johnny explained. “Infamous murder case in the 1940s… but aren’t you buried in the Bay Area?”
“Only my body,” she replied. “But the memories — ”
The crowd erupted in sudden jeers and Johnny approached her. “Yeah, don’t bring that up with this bunch, okay?” He explained. “They don’t like being reminded of… things.”
“Aren’t you one of them?” she asked.
“Yes and no,” he replied. “I’ve barely been here twenty years, so I’m Class III. Why should we not trust the humans?”
“Because they want to enslave us, trap us, and maybe even destroy us.”
A lot of the gathered Class IIIs let out a unanimous horse-laugh on that comment, Ritchie and Johnny notable among the exceptions. Bette stepped forward.
“Oh, really now, child? You think that? No, I think you’re confusing your sad fate at human hands with reality. None of us would still be around if humans did not remember us. Hell, you wouldn’t even be able to manifest so far from your grave without human memory. See how that works?”
This brought a murmur of confusion from a lot of the group.
“What?” Bette replied. “You never paid attention to the rules? We’re here because humans remember us. Those jealous Class I bitches who were never famous want to destroy us. How hard is that to understand?”
“I saw the creation of your kind in this city,” a voice boomed out. “And I realized that it would bring the downfall of humanity, because a lot of undeserving people would become really rich and way too fast.”
There was a murmur among the crowd and then a split as a bunch of them parted like the Red Sea before Moses, looking terrified. Anabel marched through the clearing and to the center, standing to face Bette, who glared back, defiant.
“Now… what were you saying, you bitch?” Anabel continued.
“I worked for my fame,” Bette hissed at her. “Oh, that’s right. I had fame.”
“I had fortune,” Anabel replied. “And I worked for that. A lot harder than you did. Well, because I didn’t do most of my work on my back.”
Bette rushed for her, but Anabel easily held her back without even touching her. “I don’t think you see the problem, Miss Davis. Yes, you’re here because the humans remember you. That is the only reason you are here. And yet, they are the ones who decided to try to wipe us all out. So how can you be on their side?”
“Why are you lying and saying they want to wipe us out?” Bette demanded.
“Because they tried to do it to me, and a few others. Haven’t you noticed any of your Class gone missing in the last couple of months?”
“We don’t exactly take roll here,” Bette replied haughtily.
“Maybe you should,” Anabel spat back before turning to the crowd. “It’s war all right,” she announced. “But I am not the enemy, and neither are the Hadas. The enemy are the humans who don’t want us to be remembered, who don’t want us around, and want all of us, but especially Class II, to vanish forever.”
There was a huge murmur from the crowd as Anabel continued.
“The storm?” she said. “That was definitely the Hadas. But it was not aimed at any of us. It was aimed at the humans, as a warning. Maybe they’ll heed it, but I doubt that they will. But if you want to save our kind, then don’t listen to people who are only famous for being famous. Listen to those of us actually in the struggle.”
A double rainbow suddenly appeared in the sky in the distance, with Anabel perfectly centered beneath it and the crowd gasped.
“I’m leaving now and gathering more members for my army. If you want to join me, rest assured that you can follow me out of here with the full protection of the Hadas, and not a single Class II can touch you. Of course, if you’re Class II, you’re also welcome to join. It’s time to fight or die… again.”
Anabel turned and marched out, all eyes watching her, then turning back to Bette, then to each other. There was a moment of confusion and chatter, and then large clumps of the Class III crowd turned and followed Anabel.
Bette bristled. “You’re making a huge mistake!” she shouted out, but she could sense she’d lost a lot of them. Then, some Class II’s started to leave. She was livid, and took on the guise of one of her least known roles, Madame Sin, a direct-to-TV thriller in which she played a possibly Chinese super-villain who actually won.
“You can run but you can’t escape!” she warned them. They didn’t listen.
* * *