The Saturday Morning Post #57: The Rêves Part 35

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.

The third day

Preston and Danny had stayed up all night watching everything they could find, and they even found one of Preston’s early scenes, which probably every young male actor in same-sex videos had done in their progression from solo to full-on fucking.

It was the classic scenario of the physical exam, which Preston’s character ostensibly had to take before joining the college swim team, and was shot on a very detailed set depicting a doctor’s office, with all of the real equipment and furniture.

The “doctor” was a very handsome 30-something man, and the whole thing played out like a normal exam — at first. Questions and answers, taking temperature, looking in the mouth, eyes, and ears, feeling the lymph nodes in the neck and behind the ears, and so on.

They even took their time with the process of Preston getting undressed, the doctor testing his reflexes, palpating his abdomen, and so on, everything seeming normal until the prostate exam, when Preston let out a loud moan as the doctor probed.

“Do you like that?” he asked, and Preston nodded. “And are you having any problems with your male parts?” the doctor continued as Preston rolled over and laid on the table, now a bit aroused.

As was the case in every version of this scenario ever shot, the answer was yes, and the solution was for the doctor — wearing neoprene gloves and using KY — to administer a hand-job to his naked patient to “cure” the problem.

It covered a few fetishes and genres all at the same time. In addition to the medical doctor, and twink and young dad type angles, it featured what was called CMNM, aka “clothed man, naked man,” which was a thing.

Since Danny was mentally more focused on his days prior to Preston’s career, it always boggled his mind at how many very specific terms and descriptions there were for things, but he really understood why the internet’s Rule 34 was absolutely true.

Rule 34 in a nutshell: If you can imagine it, then there’s internet porn of it.

“There’s probably already gay ghost twincest porn out there somewhere,” Preston suggested one time.

“And we’re not looking for it,” Danny replied. “Or making it!”

Joshua still wasn’t up by noon, although that was understandable given his very late night/early morning, on top of what must have been a lot of depression over Simon. But at about twelve thirty, Danny and Preston suddenly turned and looked at each other.

They’d both felt the same thing, and just shared a smile and a nod.

“Want to do the best thing ever for someone?” Danny asked.

“I’m way ahead of you,” Preston replied. “We just have to wait until… you know.”

“I know,” Danny said.

It was about one o’clock when Joshua finally emerged from his room, hair a mess, dressed casually, shoeless. He wandered past them and said, “Good morning,” as he went into the kitchen and fired up the coffee.

“Good afternoon!” they called back in unison.

“Any big plans today?” Danny asked.

“Just figuring out how to shut down the machine. You guys?”

“We don’t have any ideas on that,” Preston said. “We’re no scientists. But we do know that, sometimes, it helps to get out, wander around, maybe visit a familiar place to help yourself think.”

“What are you boys up to?” Joshua asked.

“Up to helping you deal with things, man,” Danny explained. “That’s all. C’mon. We can see it. You’re not exactly the happiest camper in the world right now, and you won’t be until… you know.”

“Won’t be until…?” Joshua asked.

“Until Simon has come back,” Preston said. “But you know it takes time.”

“And sitting around here just reminds you of him. Obviously.”

“Why don’t we go hang around the NoHo Station?” Preston offered. “You like that place.”

“Oh. So go from one place that reminds me of Simon to another that does?” Joshua shot back.

“Baby steps?” Danny offered weakly.

“I know you two are up to something, but I’m going to play along,” Joshua told them. “I actually trust you.”

He opened his laptop, checked that it was fully charged, took the memo he’d printed, folded it up and pocketed it, then shut his laptop, threw it in the bag, and went to put on shoes and brush his hair.

Danny and Preston were looking at each other like a couple of giddy kids. They gave Joshua hearty good-byes as he left, then dematerialized and set off on their mission.

Joshua walked down to the NoHo Station, descended the escalators by the Orange Line platform and crossed the tunnel to the turnstiles, where he slapped his TAP card and then headed down another escalator to the platform.

As was their custom — his and Simon’s — he went all the way to the end near the tunnel where the incoming trains from Universal City would appear, sat on the last bench, then opened his laptop and got to work.

His thought was that somehow damaging the constraining structures on the machine would effectively shut it down as it would break the containment of the plasma field that was actually acting as a neutrally charged primary barrier to the tachyon stream within.

Cut off the outer magnetic field corralling the plasma, it would expand and cool, suddenly deionizing, which would give it a negative charge. While the tachyon stream itself would be neutrally charged, without the barrier, its tendency was to move in space in all dimensions, so a breach in the plasma would allow the stream to firehose out through the nearest crack, as it were.

The trick was figuring out how to cut off that magnetic field, and that was why Joshua was studying all of the blueprints for the machine, and every last physical spec, running each one of them through load-limit calculations.

He very quickly got quite lost in his work, and had no idea how much time had gone by.

Meanwhile, Preston and Danny had flown over to the cemetery and Simon’s grave, because they had sensed his return. Well, probably, Pearl had sensed it and “pinged” them in her own way, but now they had to find him, because he was probably wandering around the place, a little lost and confused and, sure enough, they finally did find him. Ironically, he wasn’t all that far from Preston’s grave.

“Hello, Simon,” Danny said as Preston gave a friendly wave. Simon looked at them oddly.

“Wait… I think I remember you,” he said.

“Of course you do, Simon,” Preston explained as they approached. “You know us quite well. So does your husband. Joshua?”

Simon seemed to search his memory for a moment, then brightened up. “Joshua. I remember the name.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” Danny said. “You’re newborn, so to speak, so things are kind of fuzzy right now. What do you remember?”

“Flying,” Simon said. “Well, it felt like flying, and then… pain. And then this crazy warm numbness, in and out flashes of bright lights and all kinds of beeping and hissing and voices, and then… more numbness and then I’m standing here in this cemetery. What’s going on?”

“You died,” Preston told him. “Actually, you were murdered, by a man named Ausmann. But thanks to a machine that he built a long time ago and that you know about, we’re all back. Only not quite in our human form.”

“And Joshua is waiting for you,” Danny added.

“Joshua,” Simon said, although it wasn’t clear whether it was a question or a statement.

“Your husband,” Preston reminded him.

“Where is he?” Simon asked.

“We can take you to him,” Danny replied.

“And we can teach you one of our favorite methods of travel.”

“You guys?”

“All of us,” Danny said.

“You’re a Rêve now,” Preston told him. “Do you remember that word?”

“Oh yeah,” Simon replied, seeming to have a sudden realization, which was a good sign.

“Come on then,” Danny said, and he and Preston flanked Simon, each one taking an arm, as they lead him down into the ground and then onward until they intersected with the Metro line and followed the tunnels on up through the stations, finally coming out at NoHo.

Of course, Danny and Preston were able to be visible to Joshua immediately, but Simon was not, so he just appeared as a smoky shadow on the wall.

“How’s it going?” Danny asked.

“I think I’m getting close,” Joshua said.

“Great,” Preston replied. “We brought you a surprise.”

Joshua glanced where he was pointing and saw the obvious Rêve shadow on the wall. “Sorry,” he said. “Let it know I’m not trapping them anymore.”

“Who said you had to trap this one?” Danny told him.

“Just look,” Preston ordered.

Joshua sighed and looked at the shadow and then it drifted out of the wall as black smoke, coalesced, and Simon was standing there, dressed in full Rêve-hunter regalia, looking fifteen years younger, and smiling.

“Hi!” he said, giving a little wave. Joshua rushed over to hug him, arms not really connecting all that much, although he did feel some sort of physical resistance to indicate that something was there — just not much tangible, and with no warmth or smell.

“I missed you so much,” he told Simon.

“So did I,” Simon said. “So… now what?”

“I’m planning to destroy Ausmann and save the Rêves, including you,” Joshua explained.

“Oh, right. About that…”

“What?” Joshua asked.

“I think we just need to talk,” Simon told him.

“Shit,” Joshua exclaimed.

“Not like that talk,” Simon reassured him. “Obviously, things are a bit… different now.”

“Thank you, Captain obvious.”

“So, my place or yours?” Simon asked.

“How about ours?” Joshua countered.

“Is it, really?” Simon replied.

“Stop that!” Joshua told him, shutting and bagging his laptop. Let’s go.

Preston and Danny dematerialized, presumably heading home as Joshua and Simon started down the platform towards the escalators, Simon telling Joshua on the way, “Maybe I should fade out. What would the neighbors think if they saw me come home?”

“True,” Joshua agreed, and Simon vanished. When Joshua got home, he left the front door open and told Simon, “Re-appear once you’re inside.”

“Um…” Joshua turned to find Simon already standing behind him, Preston and Danny standing on either side.

“How long did you know he was back?” Joshua asked them.

“About a half hour before you got your lazy ass up,” Danny said.

“And you couldn’t have just brought him back here?”

“Please,” Preston said. “Where’s the drama and romance in that?”

“Well, thanks…” Joshua said. “But the two of us have some things to discuss, and we’d like to do it in private. Please?”

“All right,” they agreed.

“Go tell Ausmann he’ll be hearing from us soon, and then let Pearl and Anabel know that Simon is back.”

“Oh, we’ll tell Ausmann,” Preston said. “But we don’t have to tell Pearl. They already know.”

Seeing Joshua’s confused look, Danny added, “Who do you think told us?”

“How doe sh… Pearl know?” he asked.

“They’re everywhere, they know everything,” Preston explained. But we’ll leave you two for your reunion.”

Danny saluted, and they made their usual exit off the balcony.

“I wish they wouldn’t do that,” Simon mused.

“So, other than everything, what’s on your mind?” Joshua asked, sitting. Simon sat next to him.

“This has been a very weird experience,” he explained. “I mean, I feel like I’m a sentient being, and I have all my thoughts and most of my memories. And I’m talking to you.”

“Then doesn’t that make you a sentient being?”

“With no actual body, or nervous system, or brain? I don’t even think I have internal organs.”

“But here you are, talking to me, thinking thoughts. I’m not conjuring you up from my memories.”

“No, but we know that’s how the Rêves… exist,” Simon countered. “I’m a Class I because of you. But that’s just the thing,” he added. “I exist. I don’t live.”

“Sure, you’re living,” Joshua assured him. “It’s just a little different than it was before.”

“Organization, growth, reproduction, metabolism, homeostasis, response, and adaptation. Those are the seven criteria for biological life on Earth. We can probably strike reproduction right off that list, and growth. Metabolism?”

“Apparently, energy from the environment is what sustains the Rêves, so they do have a form of metabolism. And homeostasis — you’re maintaining your form, which means you have organization. That’s, what? Three out of seven. I’m guessing you’re also capable of response and adaptation.”

“But no growth, no reproduction,” Simon sighed.

“Do you feel alive?” Joshua asked him.

“Yes, and no,” Simon said. “Things don’t feel like they normally do. I mean, like physical senses. I’m kind of numb, and I don’t feel any kind of temperature. When I walk on hard surfaces, they feel squishy, like I could sink into them. And when I’m doing that shadow and smoke thing, the world looks and sounds really, really weird.”

“How are you doing emotionally?” Joshua asked him.

“Other than that I can never really touch you again? I am glad to see you again. At least we have that.”

“Same here. I suppose you’re as angry at Ausmann as I am.”

“I didn’t feel anything about him between the time I died and the time I found myself flying up out of the ground and wandering around the cemetery. I’m not sure I feel anything now.”

“I can’t say the same there,” Joshua replied.

“But they — the ‘they’ who say things — say that revenge is a dish best served cold, and I’m probably room temperature. So, what do you have in mind?”

Joshua quickly explained what he’d learned about how the machine could be used to destroy the Rêves, and how they were going to turn Ausmann 180 away from that. The best way to help the Rêves and win the war would be to shut the whole things down.

“Which is impossible,” Simon replied.

“Except in cases of containment breach.”

“Which can be suicidal.”

“It depends on how you do it,” Joshua explained, getting out his laptop and showing Simon his notes. “All we have to do is rupture the pipes carrying the magnetic field through a super-cooled super-conductor, the plasma containment goes, and the tachyon beam takes off. This breaks the connection with the other end, and the catastrophic shut-down mechanisms activate.”

“Great. So, how do we rupture the pipes?” Simon asked.

“You’re the materials and properties expert,” Joshua replied. “All of the specs are in that spreadsheet, so take a look and tell me.”

Simon went to the computer, surprised to find that the trackpad actually sensed his finger, and he could press the keys and click the buttons.

“Weird,” he said.

“You probably have some sort of electromagnetic field dancing around your edges,” Joshua said, “Same as human skin, so you’re repelling the electrons in whatever you touch, only maybe not as strongly.”

“Whatever works,” Simon said, continuing to study the specs and make calculations.

Joshua had printed out pictures and schematics of the chamber around the generator end of the machine, which was where they’d be targeting the attack. The generator itself was sealed and heavily fortified, the plasma beam escaping at the end of an eight-foot tube coming from the generator.

There was a catwalk high above this overlooking the first stretch of containment field and super-cooled pipes.

What had been most intriguing during this whole thing was that Joshua finally learned how they made tachyons, which were not a new particle at all. Instead, they were just ordinary photons that had been given that extra kick to go just over the speed of light in a vacuum, or c.

While it took an enormous amount of energy relative to each photon to kick it past the speed limit, it was not a huge amount of energy in absolute terms because each photon was so tiny. As soon as it was going faster than c, it would be fired into a material designed to slow it down, but here was the paradox of tachyons.

Once they’d exceeded the speed of light, that was when they started to travel backwards in time, and when you put the brakes on something go backwards in time, the apparent effect is that it starts to move away from you faster. Well, at least faster backwards in time, which is the same thing as slower going forwards.

The end result was that once the machine got going, the tachyons coming out of it emerged before they had been created inside of it — at least from our point of view.

Speaking of time, it had been over an hour, both of them deep in study, when Joshua noticed Danny and Preston on the balcony, Preston doing the helicopter to get his attention, then gesturing to ask if they could come in now.

Joshua waved and they entered.

“How’s Ausmann?” Joshua asked.

“I think he jizzed himself when we told him you had Lorre and it would be soon,” Preston explained.

“Anything else?”

“Dude has gone totally paranoid espionage hound up there,” Danny told him. “Racks of costumes, disguises, prosthetic make-up — the good, studio kind, not Halloween store shit. We didn’t even recognize him when we popped in.”

“So I guess it works,” Preston added.

“Well, when I finally send you to get him, don’t forget to let him know that once he arrives, the disguises come off.”

“Oh my god,” Simon suddenly exclaimed and Joshua hurried to him, Preston and Danny following.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Weak spot,” Simon replied, pointing at the yellow tubes that shepherded the magnetic field around. “These aren’t that strong, and especially not when they’re under the stress of the temperature differential between the outside and the inside. Hit them at a join, and they’ll pop apart.”

“How hard do we have to hit them?” Joshua asked.

“How far are we hitting from?”

Joshua pointed out the scaffolding above the pipes, Simon checked the measurements and did the calculations. “Wow,” he finally said. “We’d only need to drop about 80 kilos on there.”

“To take one out?” Joshua asked.

“To take out as many as it hit,” Simon corrected him.

“Yes!” Joshua cheered under his breath.

“So, now what?” Simon asked.

“Now, we have to come up with a plausible way to get Ausmann up there and convince him that he can destroy the Rêves.”

“He’s not going to wreck his own machine to do that,” Simon said.

“I wouldn’t put anything past him by this point,” Joshua replied. “But we can come up with some other fake thing he can do.”

“Unless he knows the science of the machine well enough.”

“I’m guessing he doesn’t,” Joshua told him, then thought for a moment before snapping his fingers. “Paradox!”

“What?”

“We tell him that if he creates a paradox with the machine, it will destroy the Rêves. And in order to create a paradox, he has to drop matter with mass into the beam. It doesn’t even need to be that much. Maybe just a baseball-sized piece of something, which will fall between the pipes.

“It will accelerate into the past but break the laws of physics at the same time, and that is what will send the Rêves back to their graves. Ooh. Is that dramatic enough?” Joshua asked.

“Chilling,” Simon said.

“Imagine it in Peter Lorre’s voice. Speaking of which, I think it’s time to teach him his lines now,” Joshua added.

“You really have Peter Lorre?” Simon asked.

“Well, just the Class I version of him. Class II is wandering around, probably somewhere in Hollywood, living it up.”

“I suspect Drew’s handiwork,” Simon said.

“You suspect correctly. I suppose it’s time to train him, but let’s wait until tomorrow and get a fresh start. Right now, I just want to hang out with you.,” Joshua told him.

“Should we leave?” the boys asked.

“Nah,” Joshua said. “You both can stay. You feel like family now, anyway.”

Preston and Danny both “Awwed” in unison as the four of them settled in for another night of bingeing, although they all settled down early because tomorrow would probably be a busy day.

It began with Preston and Danny managing to prepare another breakfast, intended for Joshua and Simon but, of course, Simon didn’t need to eat, nor could he. After breakfast, Joshua stood and announced, “So, shall we decant the spirit and see what we can teach it?”

Simon nodded. “Yes, of course!”

Joshua retrieved the trap and placed it in their home containment box, letting Lorre out while keeping him sealed in.

He was surprisingly calm when he appeared in the cage, but that might have had something to do with three Rêves watching him along with one Vivant. He turned to them and smiled.

“Oh, hello,” he said, his accent not as strong as it was onscreen, but still noticeable. “Is Andy here?”

“No,” Joshua said. “He couldn’t come over, but we’re all good friends of his.”

“Ah, I see,” Lorre said. “And where is here?”

“North Hollywood,” Simon explained, to Lorre’s surprise. He turned and looked toward the balcony.

“High-rises in North Hollywood now?” he exclaimed. “I know I have been gone a long time, but now I have seen everything.”

“You haven’t been up here recently?” Joshua asked.

“I’ve only come back recently,” Lorre explained.

“I know exactly what you mean,” Danny said, kneeling in front of the cage. “The same thing happened to me as — ”

“Danny!” Joshua snapped, shooting him a warning look. Real Lorre hadn’t noticed he’d been split, and Joshua wanted to keep it that way.

“So what can I do for you gentlemen?” Lorre asked.

“We have a very important mission for you,” Joshua explained, going on to tell the story of Ausmann, his hatred of the Rêves, and his attempt to destroy them.

“And he tasked us with finding you in order to find out all of the Rêves’ weaknesses.”

“Why would I tell him that?” Lorre asked.

“Not you,” Joshua said. “The version of you from all of your movie roles. You did tend to play characters who were…”

“Don’t be kind,” Lorre said. “That was my specialty. Cowards, turncoats, murderers, and punks. I rather enjoyed it, actually.”

“Excellent,” Joshua said, “Because that’s what this guy is expecting, and you’re going to pretend to give it to him. Cower in fear, and then appear to sell out your own kind.”

“But I don’t?””

“Of course not. You’re going to give him bad information. I assume that you, like every other Rêve, knows about the machine, and how it could destroy you.”

“Oh, yes. Rev up the engine, and we are gone.”

“Exactly. So that’s not what you’re telling Ausmann.”

“I should think not,” Lorre replied.

“Here’s what you will be saying,” Joshua continued, and he and Simon explained the scenario and the words to Lorre, tossing the concept back and forth until it felt like he really got it.

“So it would be necessary to place some mass into the — plasma beam, you called it? — in order to disrupt the machinery and destroy us?” Lorre repeated. “That’s what I should tell him?”

“Pretty good. Yes,” Joshua explained.

“What if he asks me why?” Lorre wondered.

“You’re just an actor. Actually, you’re supposedly just the collective memories of all the characters you ever played, so you don’t know why. It’s just accepted wisdom among the Rêves.”

“Well, that makes my job easier, I suppose,” Lorre laughed. “Oh. But what if he asks why I would participate in my own destruction?”

“Tell him that as long as you’re down there behind the beam when it happens, you’ll be fine.”

“What if he doesn’t believe me?”

“Why would he not? Anyway, none of it matters if he doesn’t believe what you tell him about dropping mass into the beam, and he’ll only buy that if you pull off the role of the cowardly traitor, so that he thinks you are just your characters. You’re a good enough actor that I’m sure you can pull that off.”

“Why, thank you, young man.”

“Joshua,” he introduced himself.

“Peter,” Lorre said. “Oh. But I guess you knew that.”

“No I apologize, because I have to put you back in to the trap until we take you to Ausmann. It’s the only way he’d believe that I could bring you there.”

“I understand,” Lorre replied. “Here’s to our mission succeeding. See you on the other side!”

Joshua nodded and triggered the trap. Lorre vanished into it. The cage ejected the disk out the slot, and Joshua put it in the vault where it would be safe until they needed it.

“I think it’s going to work,” Simon told the others.

“I hope you’re right,” Joshua replied. “Now, can we get our minds off of this for a bit?”

“Binge and bang?” Simon asked.

“Well, we’re not going to get much bang, are we?” Joshua said.

“I was being metaphorical. At least I didn’t say ‘Netflix and chill.’”

“That’s because only old people say that anymore. “

They settled together on the sofa, Danny and Preston on the other side (after they’d asked if they could, of course), then went through the arduous process of deciding what to watch, finally settling on Dune — the 2021 version, not the 1984 David Lynch version or the 2000 television version.

Danny and Preston were thrilled to learn that it even existed. Meanwhile, even though Joshua and Simon had already seen it multiple times, they could always watch it again, and they couldn’t wait for Part 2 to come out, since the first film had stopped halfway through the book, leaving Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica, stranded in the desert of Arakis, after being betrayed by an intricate plot by a rival family.

And then they meet up with the Fremen. If you’re a Dune fan, you’ll know.

It was a long movie, but worth it, and the boys loved it. It also brought up some great memories for Simon and Joshua, and they were giving each other that look, Joshua finally sighing in frustration.

“You have no idea how much I wish we could… actually have sex right now,” he told Simon.

“So do I,” Simon said before looking at him for a long time, then glancing back at the boys, who gave him encouraging looks. “There is… one thing,” he finally said, very awkwardly.

“What’s that?” Joshua asked.

“I guess you’d call it… strength in numbers?”

“Okay, I’m not sure I like where this is going,” Joshua said, “And how would you know, anyway?”

“It’s just how this works, I guess,” Simon replies. “When you become a Rêve, you wind up with all of the knowledge. We’re all kind of interconnected. Only, sometimes, we can be very connected.”

“How, exactly, do you mean ‘connected?’” Joshua asked.

“Did you ever wonder how the Hadas could have caused that storm when every one of them was reduced to scattered ashes, and except for via Pearl, they can’t really manifest a human appearance like we can?”

“Um, no?” Joshua replied.

“That’s strength in numbers,” Danny said. “And three are enough to… do what you gotta do with your husband.”

“So… if I did agree to this, theoretically… how does it work?”

“Simple,” Preston said. “We just lend our energy to Simon so that he can become tangible enough to get freaky with you so you both can feel it.”

“Lend?”

“It’s kind of a temporary merge thing, basically,” Danny said.

“Aren’t you two worried about mooshing back together and just becoming Preston?” Joshua asked.

“Too late for that,” Preston replied. “We are definitely distinct now.”

“It sounds interesting,” Joshua said, “But I don’t know.”

“Sounds like you need a sample,” Simon announced, gesturing. Danny and Preston walked up behind him and then seemed to vanish into him, Simon appearing more and more solid until he stepped forward, took Joshua in his arms and buried his face in a kiss.

It was warm and wet and real, with Simon’s arms wrapped around him, and it took Joshua back to the days and nights before Simon died. When they broke, they stared into each other’s eyes, and all of Joshua’s resistance was gone.

Well, almost all of it. “Are those two aware of… things during this?” he asked Simon.

“Full disclosure,” he heard Preston’s voice, “Yes.”

“But we have to stay in here. If we come out, then Simon can’t do this anymore,” Danny added.

Joshua wasn’t sure whether to think of it as an audience or a four-way, but he stared into Simon’s eyes again.

“So, you’re not going to break out with two extra dicks or sprout a stray asshole or mouth anywhere, right?” he asked.

“Nope,” Simon reassured him. “They’re going to stay where they are. They’re going to feel everything I fell, and I’m sure they’re going to enjoy it, but just forget they’re along for the ride, okay?”

“As long as they don’t start moaning or anything,” Joshua said.

“Sorry, dude. You two are hot. Hard to promise that,” Preston whispered.

Joshua looked at Simon again and gave him a quick kiss. “Fuck it,” he said. “You only live one… sorry.”

“So, fuck it?” Simon said.

“Fuck me,” Joshua replied. Simon picked him up — which surprised the hell out of him, and proceeded to do exactly that. Several times. Until way too late that night became too early the next morning.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #56: The Rêves Part 34

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.

Nothing good ever happens on Tuesday

It was a bright, warm Tuesday afternoon in Hollywood — August 29th, to be precise — and the buskers were setting up early around the Metro Station at Hollywood and Highland and all down the street past the forecourt of the Chinese Theater, which was pretty much all that was left of the original place by now, but they had managed to stay in business by charging people to come in to see the prints in cement and gawk at the faux-Sino architecture of a bygone era.

Madame Tussauds had managed to hold on, but only because they were an international enterprise on four continents, and the places that hadn’t closed for all that long subsidized the ones that did. They had also early on figured out ways to increase the distance between displays and control traffic, so that people could come and stare at wax visages of celebrities, some alive and some dead.

Except that, recently, the actually dead celebrities had started to infringe on things, not only on the Hollywood site, but at the Washington D.C. version, and concern had gone all the way up to the home office in London.

It was a matter of concern, because a lot of these alleged celebrities showing up in the streets actually infringed upon licensing agreements that the museum had made with the dead celebrity’s estates.

So they sent out a fleet of lawyers and investigators to determine two things: Number one, who the hell was behind this stunt? Number two, who could they serve with papers in order to sue their asses off, on behalf of both the museum and the license-holding estates.

In fact, the whole legal team had been on the job for at least a week, when all of these so-called “ghosts” started to get media attention, but in all of that time, not a one of them had come back with a single piece of plausible evidence tying the whole thing to any single human or corporate entity.

The suits in London were getting more and more annoyed. Well, in American terms, pissed, although by this point, given the frustration of a fruitless investigation, they were probably now getting regularly pissed in the British sense.

It didn’t help that while D.C. was plagued by dead politicians and other American figures left and right, the detectives there couldn’t come up with any answers, either.

Bette Davis loved to hold court in front of the Chinese Theater, regaling fans with stories of her films, while Valentino still insisted on creeping around by Hollywood High. W.C. Fields preferred to stick to the bar at the Roosevelt Hotel, and the Marx Brothers just did their shtick up and down the Boulevard, from Highland to Vine and back again.

Marilyn, being Marilyn, hung out wherever the light was best.

As for the rest of them, they just wandered around at random on the streets of Hollywood, as they did when they were still alive, veering north and south off of the holy path that ran from Grauman’s Chinese eastward to the fabled Hollywood and Vine.

Back at Hollywood and Highland, various remote news crews had set themselves up, from all of the major networks and streamers, and all did their own stories from here. But if someone were to cut them together, it would all be the same exact video.

They all pretty much led with some variation on “Ghosts in Hollywood?” immediately tipping savvy readers off via Betteridge’s Law: If a headline ends with a question mark, then the answer to the question is, “No.”

Of course, in this case, the answer to the question was actually, “Sort of yes,” but what all of the stand-up reporters were hinting at and trying to discover was the mastermind behind what was clearly a viral campaign of some sort, backed by some very high tech.

What they failed to notice in their coverage was that elsewhere on the Boulevard, social media influencers had descended, and they were corralling these Rêves left and right, in order create their own viral things.

It was a weird dynamic, because some 20-ish kid would Google lens a Rêve, look up their bio and memorize the titles of or quotes from some films they’d never heard of, then do the old “rush and gush,” convince the celeb that said kid is their biggest fan, and then either get some selfies with them or, ultimate goal, talk the celeb into doing a short TikTok dance.

What the Class II Rêves never caught onto, of course, was their lack of understanding the current power dynamic. In their minds (or at least their trapped memories) they were the major celebrities whom the world loved. So they were more than happy to help the sweet kids who came up raving about their works.

What they didn’t know and couldn’t understand was that any one of these kids was more famous — at least to their generation and maybe the one before — than any Class II Rêve could ever be now, mostly because the fanbases who knew them live had died off long ago.

But Bette Davis had no idea, and Alec Queen, better known as AQMDj, Insta, YouTube, and TikTok superstar around the world, got her to dance with him in her Baby Jane persona, and overnight became the first person on Earth to get a billion views on two out of the three platforms.

“While we can’t identify some viral marketing campaign behind the sudden invasion of what appear to be the ghosts of famous people,” ran the rather boring and generic ending of all those mainstream media reports, “What we can say for sure is that whatever is wandering around Hollywood are not ghosts. Back to you… [Insert local anchor’s name.]”

Along the Boulevard, character Peter Lorre tried to get the attention of the young people he saw taking pictures with the other Class II’s, but none of them paid him any notice. He finally sulked into a corner and sat, brooding, epitomizing every character he had ever played.

“Why does everyone hate me so?” he said in the strongest version of his accent that he only played up for the public.

Fortunately, character Peter Lorre had sucked up every last bit of real Peter Lorre’s self-doubt, because that was the engine that drove his performances.

He finally just got sick of the spectacle and whisked on back to his grave.

At the same time, up in the mountains, Pearl and Anabel were walking around the ruins of what had been Ausmann’s cabin while the Hadas swarmed around them. They were quite aware of where Jerry had been buried, and the circumstances of his death, but Pearl used their powers to keep the Hadas focused away from any kind of revenge and keep them centered in, well, Pearl.

“Do you think that they’ll succeed once Simon comes back?” Anabel asked.

“Don’t discount the power of love,” Pearl said. “And the power between those two is strong. Plus, they’re both very smart. If anyone can defeat our enemy, they will.”

“They don’t seem all that well-armed,” Anabel countered.

“Oh, actually, they just obtained their superweapon after the funeral,” Pearl explained.

“What’s that?” Anabel asked.

“An apparent Class II who really isn’t,” Pearl said. “All it’s going to take is Joshua arming it before taking it into the field, but we are absolutely certain that he can do that.”

“I’m… not even sure what you’re talking about,” Anabel replied.

“Think back to the questions Ausmann asked you when he had you in captivity,” Pearl said, but Anabel just shrugged. “I know, it must have been traumatic, but I was watching. He wanted to know all of our secrets and how we could be destroyed.”

“Oh, right,” Anabel muttered. “I kind of — ”

“I know, Pearl said. “I kind of wiped that memory. But look at the brilliance. Joshua has turned the table on Ausmann, and he’s never going to see it.”

“I’m not sure I see it, either,” Anabel said.

“It’s simple,” Pearl replied, but then they were interrupted by several black helicopters suddenly pulling into view at the same time as dozens of San Bernardino County Sheriff’s vans came screaming up the mountain, lights and sirens in full effect, and they all converged on the ruins of Ausmann’s hideaway.

The lead vehicle was marked “Arson/Bomb Detail.”

The Hadas chose this moment to flee the area — or at least fade into the trees.

“Well, this ought to be interesting,” Anabel said.

“Indeed,” Pearl agreed.

Numerous armed and armored law enforcement officers poured out of the vehicles while more heavily armed and armored law enforcement officers dropped from the helicopters, assault rifles at the ready.

They did a search around the area, guns drawn, calling clear to each other at various points, focusing on the crater that stood where the cabin had been.

“Fire in the hole!” one of them called out, the others slapping on ear-guards and covering their eyes just before the flash-bang that one officer had tossed into the crater went off.

It revealed nothing.

“Stand down!” another voice called. “We are considering this a sterile site, perp not present.”

“What about booby-traps?” someone called out.

“We think he shot his wad,” the first voice replied. “What we’re looking for — very gently — is any bit of forensic clues we can scrounge up to give us the motive. Consider the location safe, and proceed accordingly.”

The officers proceeded to sweep the area, some with metal detectors, others with UV flashlights, and still others with trained dogs. There were even those few rare humans who had no apparent tools, but who had been in the business so long that they could see other things that most people, even professionals, missed.

The younger officers privately derided them as “The Gummer Shoes,” a term they would never use around the first officer, who had told them to stand down.

And why wouldn’t they? Because Captain Schrantz followed the rules and sailed a tight ship, and she would have psychologically slapped the shit out of any of her subordinates who acted, as she put it, “Like a whiny little 2020 karen.”

When she called out, “Officer who dropped that flash-bang, report to me immediately,” knees went weak and testicles retracted as every man on the squad empathized with whoever would have the balls (if not for long) to respond.

Meanwhile, every woman on the squad quietly smiled and nodded internally. They were really over this toxic masculinity bullshit.

Of course, everyone was surprised as fuck when Lieutenant Ramirez stepped forward, because he was famous as the first transgender person to have been accepted by San Bernardino County. In fact, it was his court case that finally forced the county to recognize transgender individuals and correctly gender them on all county forms.

When Ramirez finally dumped his dead-name and became forever and legally Lucas, it opened major doors. Everyone on his squad knew this, which is why they were doubly shocked when he stepped forward after the Captain’s request.

“Did you drop that grenade?” Schrantz asked.

“Sir, yes sir!” Ramirez replied.

“And why did you do it?”

“Because it was an honorable action, sir.”

And it was as if the entire squad took a collective breath, because no one had any idea how this was about to play out.

The Captain stared at Ramirez for a long, long moment, then finally asked, “So… why did you consider that action honorable?”

“Simple, Captain,” Ramirez replied. “We really had no idea whether the place was safe, given our briefing, and the psycho-history of the perp. He’s coming damn close to being a serial killer, and per his profile, taking out a few law enforcement officers, regardless of station, would have been a feather in his cap.

“So, sorry if I overreacted, but I was just doing what good officers do, which is clearing the area before they have to enter the danger-zone. Sir, thank you, sir!”

Lucas snapped his heels together, nodded, and stepped back.

Schrantz considered his words for a long, long time, finally just sighing and muttering to herself, “Well… fuck.”

“We can’t fault you for helping,” she finally said. “And we can’t penalize you for being sincere. Just… in the words of Darth Vader, ‘No disintegration!’”

This lightened the mood immediately, as Schrantz had intended. One of her strongest leadership skills was the ability to defuse a tense situation with an unexpected bit of improvised humor.

“We found something!” one of her officers called out over the radio, and so all of them converged on a spot where they quickly excavated the grave that held Jerry’s body.

“Son of a bitch,” Schrantz muttered. “Any ideas?”

“Bullet hole in his head says it was probably homicide,” Ramirez explained. “We can airlift him to the coroner, run a full autopsy. Might want to have the forensics crew check the body for ID now, start looking for connections to our perp.”

“Excellent idea,” Schrantz said, nodding to a nearby officer, who went to notify the forensics team. By the time they were loading the body onto the helicopter an hour later, Schrantz knew the man’s name and address, and a quick check of his phone showed that his last phone call had been from a very familiar name.

The display just read, “Ausmann,” and the call came in the early evening just over a week ago. She was willing to bet that when they recovered the GPS history from the phone, that was also when it would move from L.A. up to Big Bear, and then stop.

That wasn’t the only connection to Ausmann though, at least not according to what Captain Davis of the Simi Valley PD had explained when she’d called after the bulletin about the explosion went out. In fact, that was the reason why Schrantz and her crew were up here in the first place.

Random explosion, possibly an accident with a propane tank. But when a cop tells you, “You know, this guy’s house down here was also destroyed under mysterious circumstances during that freak storm, and we found his wife’s corpse in it,” well, that’s when you pay attention.

After the helicopter lifted off and on the way back to the command car, Schrantz called Davis, who answered immediately.

“Captain Schrantz!”

“Captain Davis. I have some… interesting news, but it certainly bolsters your case.”

“Oh my god, what?” Davis asked.

“Our boy is apparently a murderer in two counties now, although he wasn’t as careful to make this one look accidental like you told me he did with his wife.”

“Really?” Davis replied, incredulous.

“Really,” Schrantz said.

“So, how do we coordinate from here?”

“APB time, I’ll coordinate the southern counties, maybe even let them know in Nevada in case he tries to flee east. You keep an eye out up there in case he sneaks back to the roost, and I’ll also loop in the Pasadena PD.”

“Excellent,” Davis said.”

“On the way back down to HQ, I’ll call our tech guys and have them set up a private intranet to use as a multi-divisional clearinghouse for all information on the case. And I do mean all. No matter how tiny or stupid you think a hunch is, share it.”

Davis just laughed. “You kidding?” she said. “Some of my biggest busts have happened because I took a tiny, stupid hunch seriously. Hey, we’ll have to get together and talk shop some time when this is over. Is there a Mr. or Mrs. Schrantz?”

“Sadly, no,” she replied. “Well, unless you want to call my badge ‘mister.’”

“I so get that,” Davis replied. “Don’t give up hope. But let’s definitely meet up. My husband is an amazing chef.”

“I’ll definitely keep that in mind,” Schrantz said. “Okay, I’m heading back down now, and I’ll keep you posted.”

“Okay, bye.”

They hung up and Schrantz got into the car. Meanwhile, Davis dialed Lewis’ extension.

“Yes?” he asked when he picked up.

“Guess whose hunch was right,” she sing-songed to him teasingly.

“Get out,” he replied.

“Get in here, and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

As Lewis hung up his phone, Ausmann was answering his.

“There are some cops here asking about that guy,” Austin said.

“Thank you,” Ausmann replied. He had already taken to keeping himself heavily disguised in latex at all times as “sunburnt old homeless person.” He now got into the wheelchair he’d had delivered and rolled himself down the hall, into the elevator, and to the lobby.

He casually rolled past the main desk, where several L.A. County Sheriff’s officers were asking the desk clerk about a Mr. Ausmann, and busied himself with the tourist pamphlets next to the concierge desk, where Austin was helping a tourist couple who didn’t speak English. Ausmann was rather surprised when Austin replied to them in fluent Korean.

But then the clerk directed the cops to Austin, and he apparently told the Korean couple to wait as he answered their query. They showed him photos and told him the name, and asked if that man had been in the hotel, and Austin immediately answered, “Nope. Haven’t seen him, and nobody by that name is on the books.”

“Are you sure?” one of the Sheriffs asked.

“It’s my job to know who’s in our hotel, and that man is not,” Austin replied.

The Sheriffs looked at each other, disappointed, then thanked Austin and exited.

Austin went back to helping the Korean couple. Ausmann waiting until he was done and they left, then rolled up to the desk.

“Hi,” Austin announced breezily. “How can I help you?”

“Remember me?” Ausmann said, waiting a beat while Austin looked confused, and then slapping a trio of Franklins on the desk. “Excellent job at informing me, and deflecting them. More to follow if you keep it up. And I think I’m a couple of steps closer to getting to Ausmann before they do, so thanks!”

“Thanks?” Austin replied, pocketing the money. As an employee in his position, he lived in a suite at the hotel, so didn’t pay rent, but he certainly had plenty of other expenses.

At home, Brenda was sitting on the porch swing out back alone, sipping a glass of McBride Sisters Collection Central Coast California Red Blend, 2016 vintage, contemplating life and everything that had happened in the last month or so.

Well, almost a month, and that’s what made it even weirder to think about. It had been a very eventful August, indeed, and it had made her reconsider her current place in life.

Oh, she was absolutely head over heels in love with her whole extended family and their situation. They all got to be together, the kids were turning out great, Jonah continued to evolve as a person… and so did she.

Which is why she realized that she was getting tired of government work, had absolutely no interest in moving up that food chain, and was really looking for a change. Fifty was barreling down the tunnel at her and would be here in a few years. She wanted to leave a legacy as more than just a Metro line functionary.

But what? She had considered going into advocacy for transgender children for obvious reasons, but was resistant because, as a straight cis-woman, despite her experience as the mother of a transgender child, she did not feel qualified to speak on their behalf.

Oh, she could support their rights at every turn, and she sure as hell would. She just knew that it wouldn’t be right to speak as an authority on their lives — something she wished that more people got in all the various combinations. “Stand with us, but stand behind us, then hold us up when we get shoved,” should be the motto every marginalized group uses with their “allies.”

She had found herself really fascinated with Joshua and Simon’s work, and incredibly moved and saddened that it had led to Simon’s death. She was seriously considering talking to Joshua about doing something in that field, although it would not be for the county or state government. She’d want to go strictly freelance and, by this point, she had a feeling that Joshua wanted to help these ghostly companions.

What was it he said they preferred to be called? Oh, right. Rêves. Well, except for the mysterious oldest and all-powerful ones who hung out in nature and were a collective. What was the word again? Las hadas silvestres.

And he’d explained to her at one point that their ex-human representative, as it were, was an entity that comprised all of them at once, sort of, went by the name of Pearl and the pronouns they, them, and theirs, although most commonly, Pearl appeared as who they had been originally before taking on the collective.

“Janis Joplin,” he said.

“Oh, get out!” Brenda had replied, but he insisted it was true and explained why. Something about cremation changed the dynamic, so the Rêves of the cremated, which Hadas technically were, didn’t come back in the same form.

The only reason that Janis managed it was because so many people still knew her when she died and remembered her, which gave her the strength of a Class I, but the powers of a Hada. She ultimately chose the latter.

The rest of them were mostly those forgotten in the early days of the AIDs epidemic because they had died far from home, shunned by their families, and often even by their friends after the diagnosis. A lot of them died indigent, with no one to claim the bodies, so it was into the county incinerator they went.

Brenda wanted to help them all — not just the Hadas, but the Rêves, especially the poor Class IIs, who were forever trapped in someone else’s version of who they had really been.

She hadn’t asked Joshua yet, but she knew the backstory on Preston and Danny, and wanted to know what they were considered, seeing as how they were essentially the same person, but separated into two different classes.

That was it then, she decided. She wanted to work with Joshua to create some sort of agreement between the humans and all of these others, maybe even enlist the Hadas to help humans fix the environment.

Joshua had also explained that the mystery storm almost two weeks ago had been the Hadas doing, so if they could move the weather in a calamitous direction like that, perhaps they could move it the other way as well.

As Brenda sipped her wine, Joshua was explaining his plan with Lorre to Danny and Preston. He definitely needed them there to reassure their… guest, but assured them they could leave if the idea of a Rêve in a cage was too traumatic.

Both of them insisted that it wouldn’t be, so Joshua continued.

“Okay,” he said. “It’s a two-part thing. The first is, we need him to tell us what the Rêves are vulnerable to — that is, what will kill them. Likewise, the Hadas. Second is, we need to tell him what to tell Ausmann so he winds up not killing any of them and shooting himself in the ass.”

Danny and Preston looked at each other and laughed.

“Dude, what are we?” Danny asked.

“You do know that all of us know the answer to the magic question, right?” Preston continued.

“You… what?” Joshua looked at them confused.

“Yeah, it’s a funny thing,” Preston said, “But when we first come up — you know, pop out of the ground and back into awareness — it’s like this voice is speaking in our heads, telling us what we can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t do, why we’re here, and what could end it. It’s probably Pearl.”

“You both know?” Joshua asked them, stunned.

“Well, duh!” they said in unison.

“So…?”

“So,” Preston went on, “Your fancy machine created us and keeps creating new Reves, but it’s at just the right level. We all get some energy from it, but would get enough from the environment alone to continue on — ”

“He means actual sciencey energy,” Danny interjected, “And not the bullshit woo-woo kind.”

“Thank you!” Preston said before he continued. “You probably think that stopping the machine or turning it off would kill us all, but it’s the other way around. Increasing the energy output would rip us all right out of existence.”

“It would take about a ten percent increase, actually,” Danny said.

“Wow,” Joshua said. “But shutting it down would do nothing?”

“We just know that it wouldn’t kill us,” Preston explained.

“If ‘kill’ is the right word,” Danny added.

“Hm,” Joshua mused, pacing. “Okay, okay. But, as far as I know, it’s a machine that can’t be turned off. At least not easily. Too many fail-safes and command chains to go through.”

“Couldn’t you just unplug it?” Preston offered. Joshua gave him stink eye.

“You’d have to nuke Pasadena to do that,” he said, “And even then, it’s not a guarantee.”

“Fuck,” Danny reacted.

“Indeed,” Joshua said. “Okay, we’re going to have to leave Mr. Lorre on ice for a bit longer while I figure out whether there’s a way to disable the machine. Do either or both of you feel like reporting to General Pearl and General Anabel that we do have our secret weapon, but it’s going to take a bit longer to arm?”

“Of course!” they both replied.

“Dude, you take fake mommy, and I’ll take the Hadas, okay?” Preston asked.

“Why?” Danny replied.

“Because I’m dressed for one and not the other.”

“You aren’t wearing shit.”

“Exactly,” Preston shot back. “Bye!” and then he ran out onto the balcony and shot into the air.

“I guess he has a point,” Danny muttered, waving to Joshua and making his own exit.

Joshua dipped into the stolen files yet again, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening searching every last nook and corner of the data for information on how to stop the machine.

Danny and Preston returned just after midnight while he was still going at it, and he told them to do what they wanted while he worked, so they binged more stuff they hadn’t seen.

Joshua’s journey down the rabbit-hole continued endlessly until about four in the morning, when he was fighting nodding off on the keyboard, and trying to focus on technical diagrams of the primary transmitter for the machine, which was on the JPL end.

He studied the specs over and over, did some calculations, and realized that he just might be onto something. He carefully documented his idea in a memo to himself that he printed out and then set on the laptop keyboard before shutting down and closing the lid.

He’d work on it in more detail tomorrow. But, for now, he just needed sleep. He said his good-nights to Preston and Danny, and headed to his room, where he said his own good-night to Simon, at least in his head, as he had every night since the day his husband had died.

No, hadn’t died. He had been murdered. He didn’t shuffle off this mortal coil. He was pinky-lifted, false-cut, and bottom dealt into the abyss. Now, Joshua was gunning for the evil sorcerer who had done it, and he was not going to miss his target.

* * *
 
Image source Antoine Taveneaux, (CC) BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Saturday Morning Post #55: The Rêves Part 33

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.

Farewell, for now

It was a warm and sunny day, but with an uncharacteristic cool breeze that kept them all from overheating in their formal wear — Joshua had put on his favorite ghost-hunting outfit to match Simon’s funeral garb.

“That’s the Hadas,” Preston had whispered to him when they got out of the car and walked toward the funeral home for the viewing and service.

“What?” Joshua asked. Honestly, he was barely holding it together.

“The breeze,” Preston explained. “Otherwise, I’m sure it would be five hundred degrees out.”

“Wait. You can feel the breeze?” Joshua asked incredulous.

“And I can see it. That’s how I know it’s the Hadas.”

The room the service took place in was called a chapel, but this was the non-denominational one they had selected. The man who had set up the arrangements originally had referred to it as their “Secular Sanctuary.”

There were no religious symbols of any kind in it. Nor were the seats arranged in any manner resembling a traditional church. Instead of heavy wood pews and an altar and bema, it was more like a theater, with red velvet seats arranged in tiers in an arc around a semi-circular thrust stage.

As they entered, Preston announced, “We’re still here if you need us,” and then he and Danny respectfully faded from view.

Simon’s favorite songs were playing quietly in the background on a loop. Brent and Drew were already there when Joshua and company arrived, both dressed dapperly in matching and very formal morning wear. They greeted Joshua and gave their condolences.

Joshua thanked them, then excused himself and went to the coffin, which was open. He stood for a long time, just looking at Simon’s face, still not believing that he was gone — for the moment or for good — all the grief hitting him again.

“I’m going to get that motherfucker, honey,” he whispered before kissing Simon on the forehead, and he could have sworn he heard Simon very clearly say, “I know.”

Joshua wheeled around to see that Simon wasn’t there, but Brenda and her family had just entered the place. She saw him and nodded, then brought them over for the introductions.

“This is Joshua,” she explained. “A friend of mine I met on the job. Joshua, my mother Esme, daughter Malia, my son, Samuel, and my husband, Jonah.”

Esme took both of his hands and looked him in the eyes. “I am so, so sorry for your loss, dear. I can’t even begin to express it. Be safe, be well, be in his love.”

“Thank you,” Joshua said.

The kids greeted him with shy and awkward “Hellos,” and then Jonah shook his hand. “I am so sorry about your loss, brother” he said. “When it’s someone you love enough to share your life with… I can’t even imagine. I mean, I’d be devastated if I lost Brenda.”

“Thank you,” Joshua said, trying not to cry again. He distracted himself by doing the intros with Brett and Drew, and then said, “Looks like we’re all here. Well, almost.”

“This is it?” Brenda asked.

“By choice,” Joshua replied. “We didn’t want too big of a deal now, but maybe we’ll have a huge memorial later on.”

A side door opened and Olam escorted in Charity Walters. She would be officiating the services, such as they were, and was ordained in the Universal Life Church, having incorporated as The Holy Church of Dogs Are God, LLC.

She had officiated at Joshua and Simon’s wedding, but she wasn’t just a random fake holy person that they knew. She was also one of Joshua’s oldest friends, and by extension Simon’s. She was more like a sister to Joshua, and they would have done anything for each other — and had, many times in the past.

She wrapped him in a silent hug and they both cried together for a moment, then she pulled away and whispered, “How you holding up, baby?”

“Not great,” Joshua said.

“I know,” she replied. “Shall we…?”

“Please.”

Everyone took their seats as Charity took to the stage. As usual when she officiated, her attire was amazing, and really complimented Joshua’s and Simon’s, in a way. She was wearing a three-piece women’s business suit in a very 1940s cut with a long skirt, in a black and white houndstooth pattern — which was actually a very subtle nod to branding.

She wore white gloves and red square-heeled boots, and the suitcoat and skirt were piped in black, while the vest had white mock-ivory buttons. Her blouse beneath it matched her shoes precisely. Around but under the collar, she wore a white Geneva band, its two tails being somewhat reminiscent of British priests and barristers.

Her hat was a small black cloche with a half-veil in black lace, weighted at the bottom corners with white pearls that held it in place. Her lipstick matched her shoes and blouse.

Finally, she had a long, thin scarf draped over her shoulders to come down the front rather like a Catholic priest’s stole. For this occasion, she had chosen a rainbow pattern that repeated on each side.

The image was powerful, as it always was when she officiated, and she looked like some Golden Age of Hollywood era starlet reincarnated and put in exactly the right setting.

“Greetings, people — of all ages, races, beliefs, genders, orientations, origins, and classes, we have come together today to pay tribute to the loss of an amazing person, Simon Johan Aisling, who was taken from us far too soon.”

Brent put his hand on Joshua’s arm and gave him a look. Joshua just glanced over and nodded a thanks.

“Now, I’m not just officiating here today. It’s been my pleasure to have known Joshua and Simon for — how long has it been now? I want to say since just after college, which was — ” she mumbled — “years ago. And in all that time, I can’t say that I have met a more compassionate, passionate, caring, involved, giving, amazing person than Simon. He was a truly gentle soul but, at the same time, an intellectual and emotional giant.”

She went on with a series of stories and anecdotes over the years, some of which Joshua knew, and some of which he didn’t, and all of it sent the emotions racing through his mind — both joy at the love of a wonderful person he had known, and sheer despair at the loss.

She finally finished up with one that brought out all of the emotions in Joshua. “I still remember to this day the night that Joshua came to me to ask my advice. He and Simon had known each other for years at that point. Probably half their lives by then, since they’d met at thirteen.

“They’d been the best of friends since forever, but he called, I invited him over for dinner, and he was really confused because he realized that he’d fallen in love with Simon, but this was different. They’d dated other people before, and had come out to each other in college, but their relationship had always been platonic.

“‘But it suddenly hit me, Charity,’ he said, and I could see the look of confusion in his eyes. ‘He’s not just my best friend,’ he told me. ‘He is The One.’ So what do I do?

“Now, I’ve never told you this before, Josh, but… what I wanted to say right then and there was, ‘You ask him out, dummy!’ But I didn’t. My minor in social work kicked in, so I talked you through an hour of questions that got you around to your eureka moment of telling me, ‘I have to ask him out.’ Which is how therapy works, by the way.

“So you did, and he said yes, and the rest is history, and if I remember correctly, it wasn’t all that long after that the two of you started a very successful tech biz, and it was because your talents and interests meshed perfectly.

“They say that opposites attract, but that’s not really true. What attracts are people with similar interests, values, and traits. But what holds them together is the meshing of complementary skills and tastes, which was absolutely the case here.

“I’m not going to call anything out, but I know that one of you was great at coding, the other wasn’t. One of you was into marketing and the other wasn’t. One of you loved to do accounting and the other hated it. You were both smart enough to hire business consultants, and so there you went. Hand in hand together.

“And long before most of your friends and family knew you were actually a couple, I was lucky enough to officiate one of the most beautiful and moving weddings I’ve ever done. I am so, so sorry that I have to officiate this ceremony today. I wasn’t expecting to do this for another fifty or sixty years, if at all.

“But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because the joy that Simon brought into so many lives needs to be celebrated.”

She stepped aside and video came up on the big screen on the back wall — a series of video clips and photos of Simon’s life, with and without Joshua, most of them from Social media.

There were things here that Joshua didn’t even know existed, like “shot by potato” quality clips from low-res video cams and early flip phones from their college days just after the turn of the century, to photos from the years just before they had met in the late 90s, some of them even clearly taken on film cameras.

The montage ended with some of the high-res stuff they had done between five and ten years ago for their company social media, mostly excited announcements of new product launches in which the two of them engaged in playfully mocking banter and the chemistry between them couldn’t have been more obvious if they’d been wearing lab coats.

It ended with Simon’s name above the dates, 1985 — 2023, and then faded out.

After a bit of silence, Charity returned to the stage. “I’m not the only member of Simon and Joshua’s ‘Family by Choice’ here today, and I’d now like to introduce two men that Joshua and Simon both considered adopted uncles — ”

“Aunties!” Drew called out.

“That, too!” Charity laughed. “Anyway, two older men who were always mentors. Now, for a few words from Brent Rouseau and Drew Weisheit.

Brent and drew stepped from their seats, Brent helping Drew up, then went up on the stage, taking a bit of time as Drew moved haltingly, and finally taking their places. Olam rolled a lectern out and put on the brakes while they moved, so that Drew had something to lean on.

“I could tell you where and when I met Joshua,” Brent started, “But it’s kind of naughty, so I won’t.”

“It wasn’t naughty at all,” Drew cut in. “It was just a party.”

“Yes, but — ”

“All right, a bit decadent, but he was a good boy the whole time.”

“Okay, true. But what I will say is that I quickly realized that he and his boyfriend were a lot more special than I’d thought at first, and Drew and I pretty soon brought them into our inner circle.”

“Both of them really were into old movies and music, and that’s my field, so we really hit it off, and they could listen to me talk about them for hours — ”

“Or you just talked their ears off, dear.” Brent replied.

“It was to distract you from feeding them to death,” Drew said. “If you’d had your way, they’d both be over three hundred pounds by now.”

“I’m southern, dear. Food is love.”

“Food is overrated!” Brent scoffed.

Joshua just stared, chuckling to himself, and he could hear Brenda and Jonah trying not to, while their kids, being kids, were honestly giggly at this marital bickering. It was the comedy relief that Joshua really needed.

They ultimately wound up delivering a really nice tribute to Simon before sitting down, Olam removing the lectern during their exit, and it had done Joshua a world of good, because he knew what was coming up next on the program.

“Now, of course, we couldn’t finish this ceremony without a few words from Simon’s widower and loving husband, Joshua Hunter.”

Joshua stood and went to the stage, Charity taking both of his hands in hers and telling him quietly, “You got this, honey,” before he turned back to the crowd.

“Ha,” he thought. “Crowd.” There were seven people looking at him directly from the audience, two off to the side, and two more hanging out invisibly. He didn’t have any notes or anything really prepared. He took a moment to look at Simon in the coffin, and then just winged it.

“You know, I never suspected in a million years that I’d be here, giving this speech, on this day, so soon. I’m only thirty-eight, and he wouldn’t have been for another three months. No, we were supposed to both live as long as our uncle Drew there — who’s 97, by the way.

“Think about that one. He was born almost sixty years before Simon or I, and he’s still here. Meanwhile…”

He let it hang for a moment, trying to not get too emotional, before he reeled it in and found an anchor. “Meanwhile… 1998. That was only 25 years ago, but it was also in another century and another era. It was a Monday in December, and I remember the date exactly, actually.

“December 14, 1998. It was right before our middle school was going to go on winter break, it was lunchtime, and a bunch of us who had seen Star Trek: Insurrection during its opening weekend were discussing it. And I was quickly realizing that, while my nerdy friends and I had all been huge fans of TNG — um, The Next Generation, that’s the Patrick Stewart series that followed up the William Shatner one decades later — anyway, they are just gushing all over the movie, while I was not all that impressed.

“And I tried to express my disdain and explain why and kept getting shot down until, at one point, this kid I’d never met before who’d been eating lunch at a nearby bench suddenly came over and went, ‘Hey. I didn’t like it either for the same reasons, and I am the biggest TNG fanboy on the planet!’

“I kind of didn’t know I was gay at that point. I mean, I was thirteen, and puberty was in the first year or two of rearing its ugly head, although I preferred hanging out with the guys. And then here comes this one who is, honestly, really good-looking, even then, and he validates me.

“Oh — on the good-looking thing at thirteen, I know that sounds creepy, but when you’re in your own demographic it makes sense. It’s only creepy if they stay good looking while you get older, nod to the major creep moment in Dazed and Confused, with Matthew McConaughey’s ‘I get older, they stay the same age’ quote.

“No, thanks. But what happened in that moment was that Simon and I became friends real fast, spent every recess and lunch after that together, realized we didn’t have any classes in common, then swapped numbers and stayed in touch over the break, and beyond.

“So I suddenly had a school bestie, and that lasted on up into high school, and we even chose the same college — UCLA — and worked it so that we wound up as roommates, and then on the last night of high school, after graduation at one of the many parties — and after we’d locked in on the UCLA thing, he came to me and said, ‘Hey. Let’s take a walk.’”

“So we did. And we were at some house up on Mullholland near the Universal Studios side, so we wandered out onto a dark bluff above the city lights, mostly making small talk until we sat and stared off at the city for a long time, saying nothing.

“Finally, he turned to me and said — and I remember his exact words — ‘Dude, don’t hate me, okay? But I think I’m into dudes and not girls.’

“I just turned and looked at him, and I think my jaw hit my knees, and I said nothing for a while, but I could hear him muttering, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry. Really, I’m… sorry.’ Then I finally mustered up the courage to reply. ‘Dude, number one. Shut up. Number two — me, too.’

“And it was his turn to fall silent until he replied with a very timid and weak, ‘Really?’

“’Yeah, man. Really.’ And so we hugged, and kept our secret, and went off to college for four years and had a wonderful time, and even wound up coming out in college to everyone and joining a group called Ten Percent, but never once did we even consider doing anything with each other because… well, honestly, that would have felt like incest and icky. Or something.

“So we graduate college, each of us had had several boyfriends by that time, and several after, and then, one day in July 2009, a couple of years out and after we’d gone to see a movie and then hung out afterwards, it hit me.

“’He is the one.’ And so I called Charity, like she already explained, then I made the date with Simon and we went on it and… our first date was a disaster. Oh, not because of us. Rather, it was because we wound up going to no fewer than three highly-rated restaurants that had actually shut down, mixing up the summer and fall venues of the L.A. Philharmonic, and then getting a flat tire on the way home.

“And none of that shit mattered. We had a great time through it all, and by the end of that evening, both of us knew it, and he actually said it first. ‘Dude… I think you might be the one.

“So that was that,” Joshua said. “Looking back, it really was love at first sight. We were just too immature to realize it. But once we did, then that was it. And it was supposed to last forever, but…”

He looked back at the coffin, then at the audience, and then the tidal wave of emotion hit him. Before he collapsed completely, Charity rushed on and hugged him. Meanwhile, Olam came on and took center stage.

“Thus ends our memorial service. We shall now move to the internment site for our final good-byes.”

Since there were nowhere near enough pallbearers, the casket had been placed on a pair of Boston Dynamics robots (with matte black finishes, of course), which rose to the occasion and proceeded to march down the center aisle and out the doors.

Joshua smiled at this bit. Simon really would have loved it. But the real surprise didn’t come until Joshua and the others stepped outside and into the sunlight.

Preston and Danny were standing on either side of the doors, fully manifest — and Preston had even put clothes on — and when the coffin came out, they took their positions as first and second pallbearers. Even though they could not have supported any of the load it was a beautiful symbolic gesture.

On top of that, there were seemingly hundreds of Rêves, probably all Class I and Class III, lined up along the walk, and as soon as the coffin came down the steps and onto the path, every single one of them knelt and bowed their head.

Joshua was so moved that he almost fell over, but then Pearl and Anabel were at his side to guide him. At least Brenda, Brent and Drew had already seen Rêves, and Brenda’s husband and kids had seen them on TV.

Olam, not so much, and he just stood in the doorway in shock.

At the gravesite, Charity took her place at the head as the coffin was placed onto the green canvas straps that would lower it home.

“I know that the ashes to ashes thing is popular at times like this,” she said, “But I prefer Carl Sagan’s description. ‘We are all born of star-stuff.’ In fact, we are nothing but what was created by the deaths of countless supernovae — motes of dust. So, in the words of another tradition, ‘So mote it be.’ Rest in power, Simon.”

She bowed her head and the robots each placed a foot on the cranks at the top right and bottom left corners of the grave and spun, lowering the closed casket into its final place.

As everyone turned away, Brent announced, “For anyone who would like to attend, we’re having a reception and luncheon afterwards at our place. Ask me for the address.”

Everyone, except Olam, of course, got the address, and so they were on their way, although Joshua hung back for a bit with Danny and Preston.

“So… that’s that,” he said.

“Yep,” they both agreed.

“Only one problem left, then,” he said. “I need to find Peter Lorre for Ausmann, and I have no idea.”

“Are you kidding?” Preston asked.

“What?” Joshua replied.

“If you want to summon a Rêve, you only have to go to their grave and bring a Rêve with you.”

“Are you shitting me?” Joshua demanded.

“No. What? No one ever told you?”

“Um… no?” Joshua exclaimed. “But, wait. I know where Simon’s grave is, so can’t I just — “

“Not yet,” Preston insisted.

“Why not?”

“They only just pulled him out of the freezer and put him in there, okay? It’s going to take a little bit of time.”

“Okay, okay, I forgot,” Joshua said. “So — do either of you know where Peter Lorre is?”

“You can probably look it up on the intrawebs,” Daniel suggested.

“Oh, right,” he said, quickly finding the location. “There he is, let’s go,” he told them.

“Don’t you have a luncheon to go to?” Preston demanded.

“I do,” Joshua replied. “But Mr. Lorre is going to be a guest of honor.”

“Why’s that?” Danny asked.

“I have my reasons. Now just lead the way!”

“Okay, daddy,” Preston replied, and they guided him as he drove to Lorre’s gravesite in Hollywood after a bit of a schlep.

“Now what?” Joshua asked.

Preston laughed and dropped into the ground. A few seconds later, he returned with the Rêve Peter Lorre, who was in full-on bug-eyed Casablanca mode.

“Who is it? Who disturbs my rest? Reek, Reek, help me — ”

Before he could finish that sentence, Joshua had deployed the trap strapped to his wrist and sucked Lorre in, slamming it shut. Danny and Preston both looked at him, alarmed.

“Dude!” they exclaimed.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But if you want to defeat Ausmann this is absolutely necessary. Trust me. Now come back to the car, and let’s get this party started.”

By the time Joshua made it up to Brent and Drew’s, everyone was well into the meal. Just before they entered, Joshua told Preston and Danny, “Stay visible. I want you to meet them.”

“Are you sure?” Danny asked.

“Yes,” Joshua said. “There wouldn’t be two of you without them.”

They looked confused but manifested, Joshua warning Preston before they entered. “Clothes, please. There are kids present.”

“Sorry!” Preston sighed, materializing his funeral suit.

“There he is!” Brent called out. “Naughty boy. Late to your own funeral party.”

“Sorry! I had business to attend to at the cemetery. Plus two friends to pick up. Preston and Danny, this is Brent.”

“Enchanté!” Brent announced, moving to kiss each of their wrists before realizing. “Oh… you’re… I see.”

By this point, the four of them had entered the main living room, and when they walked in, Drew spotted Danny and Preston and gasped.

“My god!” he said, way too loudly. “You actually found that porn star, and now there are two of him?”

“Ixnay, Ewdray. Erethay areway ildrenchay, okayway?” Brent said out of the side of his mouth.

“We do need to talk about the twin thing,” Joshua said, “But later, okay?”

Drew made his way over to them and looked intently at Preston and then Danny. “My god, I can’t even tell which is which.”

“That’s because I made the naughty one not wear his work uniform,” Joshua whispered. “But… I am really hungry and want some of your husband’s amazing cooking. If you want, you can show the boys your library?”

“Good idea,” Drew said. “Boys?”

“Daddy…” Preston leered at him as Danny slapped his ass in protest. They followed Drew off and up the stairs to his inner sanctum.

At least Joshua knew that it was impossible to molest a Rêve.

He spotted Charity, who was chatting away with Brenda, and joined them.

“Hi!”

“Hello,” Charity said. “So Brenda was just explaining to me what all of those… spirits were we saw there. You never told me that you and Simon were involved in hunting them down.”

“We thought it was research,” Joshua said. “We were lied to. So now, we’re involved in stopping the guy who wants to destroy them. Well, we were, now it’s just me… but I’m going to do it.”

“And you really don’t want that job I offered you?” Brenda asked.

“It sounded to me like that job was just what Ausmann had us doing, but on steroids.”

“The terms are probably subject to change if you give them new information.”

“Too late for that, really,” Joshua said. “I think I’m pretty close to what they call in chess and the MCU the endgame.”

“Are you sure?” Brenda asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Joshua said. “A pawn is about to be promoted, and then two queens are going to take out the opposing king. Checkmate.”

“You sound so confident.”

“I am confident.” he replied. “So… let’s just celebrate Simon now, and our victory over Ausmann later. Which won’t be all that much later.”

Brenda gave Joshua a skeptical look, but Charity turned to her and said, “I know him. He only gets like this when he’s about 125% sure of himself. Otherwise, he’s a ball of doubt. Trust him.”

“And… thank… you?” Joshua said to her.

“You know it’s true, silly,” Charity replied, and he did. She could read him like a fucking book. She’d always been able to.

The three of them intentionally turned the conversation away from anything to do with the Rêves and Ausmann and went to hang out with Esme, Jonah, and the kids, who had already taken a trip to Brent’s fabulous dessert bar.

Brenda gave the adults a jaundiced eye when she saw the ice cream monstrosities that Malia and Samuel had doled out way too generously in their bowls, but Esme just rebuked her quietly.

“Stressful event, let them,” she said. “You know you want to, too. No… you know you need to. Go. Gorge. No guilt. No guilt at funerals.”

Brenda turned to Charity and Joshua, who both said almost the same words, to the effect of, “Always listen to your mother,” and very soon they were loading bowls with way too much ice cream in the most decadent flavors, topping them with chocolate sauce, hot fudge, butterscotch, and every kind of sprinkly thing imaginable.

By the time all of them had finished, they’d collapsed onto the various sofas in food comas, the only sound coming from the water running in the kitchen and Brent happily humming to himself as he did the dishes.

“Yeah, I needed that,” Joshua muttered eventually, and Charity agreed.

“Amen,” she said.

“Probably best we be making our move now,” Jonah announced. “The kids are going to be crashing, and we should leave the real family alone for the evening.”

“True,” Brenda said, and she and her husband and mother pulled themselves to their feet. Jonah picked up Samuel and Brenda did likewise with Malia.

“Thank you for the invite,” she told Joshua. “You’ll have to come on down for dinner and game night soon. Both of you.”

“I’d love that,” he said.

“We’re all about game night,” Charity added.

And so the Family Mason made their way out, and then Joshua and Charity were rebuked when they asked Brent if they could help in the kitchen. The two of them wandered back to the living room.

“So, I should be going — ”

“No,” Joshua insisted.

“But I should,” she said, “Because you still have one bit of business left to do, and it probably doesn’t concern me.”

“What? How…”

“You sent your little ghost boys off with the older husband a while ago, and you’re very sure that you’re close to defeating this… what was his name?”

“The less you know the better.”

“See?” Charity said. “I can read you like a book, Joshie. And right now, that book is saying, ‘Strap in for the climax.’”

He just stared at her for a long beat, then finally broke out in a smile and laugh. “And this is why I fucking love you, Charity Walters.”

“I know,” she said, winking and stroking his inner Star Wars nerd — and yes, one could be both a Star Wars and Star Trek nerd at the same time, Joshua and Simon had been living proof of that.

Goddammit, Joshua thought again. Had been.

But then Charity left, and it was now down to just Joshua, Brent, Drew, and the boys, so Joshua went to the bottom of the stairs and called up. “We’re ready for you all now!” he shouted.

After a few moments, Drew descended the stairs, Danny and Preston flanking and supporting him as best they could, and Preston was back in his porn star costume.

Joshua shot them a look that clearly said, “What did you do?” But Danny and Preston both just winked back at him as if to say, “Whatever.”

Drew certainly seemed happy, then he turned to Joshua and smiled. “The boys told me you had an assignment for me,” he said.

“I did. I do,” Joshua said. “Let’s go outside.”

Out on the deck by the pool, with the Sun sinking in the west, Joshua quickly explained everything. How Ausmann wanted to destroy the Rêves, but in order to do that, he had to steal their secrets. But, in order to steal their secrets, he had to find a Class II Rêve who was only known for playing cowardly characters who would sell out anyone else to save their asses.

“Well, shit,” Brent drawled, “Just go find a dead Senator or two…”

“Amen,” Drew exclaimed.

“No, he came up with someone very specific. Peter Lorre,” Joshua explained.

“Who was far from cowardly, goddammit,” Drew exclaimed. “That is absolute slander!”

“I know, I know,” Joshua said. “Which is the whole point of this exercise.” He pulled the trap from his pocket and showed it to them. “Do you remember what happened with Ramon Novarro?” he asked.

“He didn’t seem too happy when he left here,” Drew replied.

“Well, that changed,” Joshua said. “And look at my guys here. Danny and Preston. You gave us the info, Simon and I accidentally made them, and now…? They are the best of friends.”

“Okay, so… what? You want me to split Lorre because I knew him? Is this just some sick experiment?”

“Not at all!” Joshua countered. “No. This is our secret weapon against a genocidal maniac who wants to destroy not only you, but the recently deceased love of my life.”

“Okay,” Drew muttered, still seeming confused. “But how can a B-List foreign star who generally only played creeps and villains convince anybody of anything?”

“What did I just tell you? Remind him of who he was. That’s the Lorre we need. That’s our secret weapon. Understand?”

“What if he doesn’t — ”

“How well did you really know him?” Joshua asked.

“A lot,” Drew finally answered.

“Great,” Joshua replied. “Then you are our secret weapon.”

He raised the trap in his left hand, thumb moving into position to open it.

“What if I can’t split him?” Drew asked.

“Oh, you will,” Joshua says. “I’m sure of it. Ready?”

“Fuck no!”

Danny and Preston flanked Drew. “Don’t worry, dude,” whispering in his ears. “We’re here.”

“So, ready?” Joshua asked, but Drew didn’t reply Neither did Joshua. But then he opened the trap and Peter Lorre drifted out. For a brief moment, he flashed through his more iconic roles before suddenly sticking in place, looking very young and curly haired as he did in The Maltese Falcon.

“Joel Cairo,” Drew said, in awe. I loved that movie. I was about fifteen when it came out, and I saw it a dozen times. Memorized all the dialogue — ”

“You always have a very smooth explanation ready,” Lorre as Cairo said.

“Like that line!” Drew perked up. “What was next…? Oh, right. ‘What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?’”

Lorre looked at him oddly. “You look different, Sam.”

“That’s because I’m not Sam, Joel,” Drew said. “And you’re not Joel. Pete.”

Lorre stared and started to morph through his various characters, finally stopping in what were clearly casual civilian clothes of Hollywood in the early 60s. “Andy?” he said quietly.

“Long time, no see, huh?” Drew told him. “Oh, remember all those times you told me stories about working with Bogart and Greenstreet, and you had me laughing my ass off?”

“I don’t know the lines…” he muttered, a little panicky before swapping back to Ugarte from Casablanca. “Rick?” he pleaded with the familiar drawn-out pronunciation: “Reeek!

“You were always good at learning lines, Pete. Oh — you used to quote your films when we all hung out together, too. Except that you’d exaggerate and make fun of your performances — ”

“I have the transit papers, Rick,” he offered, hands shaking. “Please don’t — ”

“I remember you very well, Pete. Well, that’s what you insisted I call you, but you’ll always be Mr. Lorre to me. A real Hollywood icon, sure, but also a real friend.

“You despise me, don’t you?” Lorre as Ugarte demanded.

“Not at all,” Drew said. “I loved you as a friend — ”

“Follow the damn script!” Ugarte practically screamed before shrinking into apologetic human Chihuahua mode. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Sometimes I say things — ”

“That other people wrote for you, Pete.”

“You are a very cynical person, Rick, if you’ll forgive me for saying so.”

“I told you. I am not Rick. I am Drew. You knew me as Andy. I knew you as Peter Lorre, but your birth name was László Löwenstein, and you were born in Hungary.”

“Rick. Rick! Hide me — ”

Before he could continue, Lorre’s eyes rolled, he morphed rapid-fire through a bunch of characters, and then collapsed in a puff of black smoke onto the patio.

Joshua grinned at Drew and gave him thumbs-up. As they’d seen before, gray smoke moved away as the first cloud coalesced into character Lorre. The second one approached Drew and took on the form of real Lorre.

“Andy!” he smiled, his accent not quite as strong as on film, though still present. “How are you?”

“I’m doing great, Pete. And you?”

“Couldn’t be better.”

He suddenly vanished in a wisp of smoke into the trap Joshua had redeployed, now closing it and pocketing it.

“Why did you do that?” Drew demanded.

“Couldn’t have him noticing his double and getting away,” Joshua said. “He’s the key to the plan.”

“What about the other one?”

“He can go back to Hollywood and hang out with the tourists if he wants.” Joshua turned to look, and character Lorre didn’t hesitate to take the advice, shooting off into the night sky.

Joshua looked at Danny and Preston, and all of them grinned. He indicated the trap in his pocket. “I think I’ve now got the key to destroying Ausmann.”

“Brilliant!” Preston exclaimed, Danny nodding in agreement. They said their good-byes and left, passing a very nonplussed looking Brent in the back slider. He watched them go, then turned to Drew.

“Honey, in the contest between whether this year or 2020 is weirder, I think we’re quickly catching up.”

* * *

image source: Melissa, Peter Lorre — Hollywood Walk of Fame, licensed under (CC) BY-ND 4.0