Brenda actually had no doubts at all that Ausmann had found them and killed Simon, but Joshua was covering that up for some reason. Maybe he was still under threat. She realized then how badly she and her family might have screwed things up if they actually had called the cops to report the intruder.
But what was the point? Ausmann was an old white man, probably well-off and with Federal connections. And Jonah had had his regular share of run-ins with cops, despite being a well-dressed professional in a clearly expensive yet family-oriented car, and in only the “good” neighborhoods.
But, of course, that was because a certain class of cop didn’t see the “well-dressed professional” part. They only saw a Black man. Well, in their minds, they didn’t use the “B” word, she was sure.
Then there was her father, gone for almost thirty years now, same reason, only one time turned violent, maybe because he’d finally had enough and tried to say “No.”
So they didn’t call the cops because they couldn’t trust them, even though they were upper-middle class, owned their own home, sent their kids to private school, and had the stability of three generations under one roof.
Because a certain class of cop wouldn’t see any of that. Hell, a certain class of people — but at least those people didn’t make it a habit to hang out in Brenda’s neighborhood. And their neighborhood was at least Black enough — and historically so — that the one indignity Jonah had avoided was being harassed on his own street, or in his own front yard.
She and Jonah had given Samuel The Speech multiple times, and still gave it to Malia, just in case. The Speech had nothing to do with sex; that was the white people version: “Here’s how to not knock her up/get knocked up.” No, their speech was all about not if some cop pulled them over for no apparent reason, but what to do when it inevitably happened, aka “Here’s how to not get shot.”
So she’d be keeping what was no doubt Joshua’s secret, because the timing of Simon’s death was way too coincidental, but she’d be doing it to protect her family, and was sure that Joshua was doing it to protect his.
Meanwhile, she flipped through her contacts until she found one, a family court and probate judge based out of the Superior Courthouse in Van Nuys, and she realized that this was the one who had handled Rita’s divorce case, and she knew she had her woman.
Rita’s divorce had been contentious, and Brenda had got to listen to her complaining about “That unfair bitch in the black robes” after nearly every single hearing. Of course, Rita didn’t know that Brenda had gone to college with Judge Bonita Valdez-Levi, nor that Brenda was regularly hearing things frrm Bonita of the, “I’m really not supposed to tell you this, but this crazy bitch in this divorce case is out of her mind.”
Bonita had no idea that Rita was Brenda’s boss, either.
Ultimately, Bonita found heavily in Rita’s ex’s favor, fined her for contempt twice, and even sanctioned her lawyer when he gave what he knew was a legally specious motion for mistrial.
“You don’t get to do that after I’ve rendered my verdict, sonny,” she reminded him. “What? Did you go to an online law school or something?”
“Yale,” he muttered.
“Ah. Harvard. Sorry.”
Although that was really just icing on the cake, and she’d only bring up the little detail about Joshua and Simon telling Rita to go fuck herself if Bonita were reluctant to help. But why would she be? They were old friends, she heard cases in family court, this was a family matter, and, most importantly, her wife happened to be a deputy coroner assigned to the North Valley, i.e. exactly where Simon’s corpse was currently pretending to be a 6’4” naked popsicle in a drawer.
If anyone is wondering — no, Brenda did not go to Harvard. Bonita only went there for her law degree. Undergrad, they both spent at Cal State University Northridge, aka CSUN, or was they loved to call it “Berkeley for Valley Kids.” They’d even been roommates for junior and senior years, and Bonita had bitched more loudly about it when Brenda was not cast as Mama Morton in Chicago.
So Brenda dialed the number and when Bonita answered, launched into it. “Hey, girl!” she gushed. “Long time no hear. What’s up?”
“Girl, we are all over each other’s shit on the social medias all the damn time, so what’s so important that it’s voice?”
“Perceptive as ever Okay. I need a really big favor.”
“Figured,” Bonita replied. “As long as it’s legal, I can probably do it. So… shoot.”
Brenda launched into her explanation and, about ten minutes later, after Bonita did some hmming and thinking out loud, she finally replied, “You know, I think that Miriam can manage that ASAP. I mean, as long as it wasn’t a homicide, but you already said — ”
“Tragic accident,” Brenda reminded her.
“Hm. I wonder if housing needs to take a look at the safety of the balconies in that — ”
“No, my friend told me that his husband had this stupid habit of sitting on the railing that he’d warned him about a hundred times,” she improvised on the spot, “Even though he was very tall and sometimes clumsy.”
“Got it. Operator error. Okay. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you so much, Bonita.”
“Don’t mention it. But you owe me one now.”
“Well, duh, of course,” Brenda replied. “Hey — are you going to the class reunion?”
“Me?” Bonita said. “Oh, hell no. You?”
“Of course not!” Brenda told her, then they both laughed, said “Bye” and disconnected.
“Um… oh, hey…” Pearl was startled to see a regular Rêve up here, but he was looking at them like he knew them. They assumed, since he was a Rêve up here, that he was the one that Preston and Danny had told her about.
“Hello,” they said. “Do I know you?”
“No,” he replied. “But oh my god, I was at your last concert. Harvard Stadium. 1970. Six months after my 16th birthday, so I was able to drive up from Baltimore with some friends. Hell, the ticket was two bucks — what I made in my gas station job in about an hour and twenty minutes, but it was worth every second… what are you doing out here?”
“Living the life, baby,” They said. “And I guess that you’re kind of new to this whole being a Rêve thing?”
“Is that what I am?” he asked. “I thought I was just a ghost — ”
“We don’t like the ‘G’ word,” they warned him. “That’s a different thing, mostly because it doesn’t exist.”
“Wait. They don’t, and we do?”
“Oh… did I mention, I’m Jerry,” he announced, extending his hand, “And I am a huge fan, Ms. Joplin. ‘Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all drive Porsches — ’”
“Stop!” Pearl shouted at him. “God, I hate the song.”
“But it was — ”
“I know,” they admonished him. “But that was so very long ago and very far away.”
“But I’ve remembered that concert since forever. Ms. Joplin. Janis?”
“Yeah, we did it and then died,” they snapped back. “I’ve kind of expanded things since then. Personas, genders, whatever. It turns out that we’re very flexible once we’re dead. But… you saw what you call my last show?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jerry said. “I mean, is it rude to mention that you died just under two months after that amazing concert?”
“What did I just tell you? And what was the last concert you saw?”
“Um… god, I have no idea,” Jerry replied, then took a couple more moments and said, “Ah… it was a Bee Gees tribute band thing out in NoHo, and we liked it.”
Pearl just laughed. “I think I heard of them. I don’t really remember, but they were crap.”
“Were they?” Jerry asked.
“Are you in any position to argue?”
“You know, I really don’t know…”
Of course, what Jerry really didn’t know was that Pearl — no, actually the Janis part of Peart who had actually met young Jerry — was not engaging his adult self. Rather, she’d and/or they had been talking to the 16-year-old Jerry who had attended that last concert at Harvard Stadium.
And had not taken his young ass at all seriously.
So a vital clue about Ausmann was not passed on to the Hadas.
Meanwhile, another vital clue was passed on almost by accident, when an oral surgeon and his realtor wife went for their early morning power walk through their Simi Valley neighborhood, only to run into an old neighbor, except that she looked… different.
“Um… Coraline?” the wife, Becca, asked.
“Oh, hi!” Coraline replied. “Do you know where my husband is?”
“Do you know where you are?” Ralph, Becca’s husband, replied.
“Well, at what’s left of our home, duh,” she said. “But is he alive?”
Becca and Ralph just stared at her. They’d been watching the news, and Coraline looked just like what they’d seen, except that she wasn’t an old Hollywood actor.
“Dear,” Becca asked gently, “Are you possibly aware of the fact that you might be… well… dead?”
“What?” Coraline snapped.
“Oh, you haven’t been watching the news, have you?” Ralph inquired.
“No, I’ve been rather busy dealing with the ruins of my house and wondering where my husband is, thank you. And have you seen him?”
Becca and Ralph shook their heads. “No, dear,” Becca replied, “But we’ve seen the news, and even if you’re not famous, well… hang on.”
Becca tapped around on her phone, then showed Coraline news footage from earlier, with all the celebrity hosts popping up all over Hollywood.
“What makes you think I’m one of them?” Coraline demands.
“Well, two things, actually,” Ralph offers, demurely, looking to Becca.
“What?” Coraline hisses.
“Um…. sorry to tell you this, dear, but we watched the county coroner take your body out of the basement of your house after the storm.”
“Apparently quite dead,” Ralph added. “Right into the body bag. Boom, zip.”
“You are liars!” Coraline insisted.
“Well, there’s that one other bit,” Becca explained.
“Um… you know that footage about the ghosts in Hollywood?” Ralph offered.
“Yeah, and I’m not one of them there,” Coraline insisted.
“No, but you might as well be,” Becca said, turning her phone to Coraline again. Apparently, she’d been recording her during the conversation, and when Coraline saw the footage, her blood ran cold. Well, actually, it was the moment that she realized that she had no blood to run cold.
“I have to find Ausmann,” she said. “I do remember he studied these ghosts. I wonder if he’s in Hollywood. I have to go there!”
As soon as she said it, she found herself flying, heading southeast out of Simi Valley and into the San Fernando Valley. She didn’t get out this way often, but she was always amazed at how much bigger it was than her own valley, and how straight all of the streets were that ran between the two freeways — the 118 in the north and the 101 in the south.
That all changed at about the 5, a state highway that ran into the city diagonally from the mountains below Santa Clarita, aimed south by southwest splitting into the short 170 on its right fork and maintaining its identity as the 5 on the right fork, the 170 soon merging and vanishing into the 101 as it turned south for Hollywood.
When all of those east-west Valley streets passed the 5, more or less, they suddenly veered, mostly to the left, to run diagonally southwest to northeast, and it was particularly noticeable in Burbank, which itself had been laid out on a diagonal instead of a grid aligned to the cardinal directions.
The rest was paving anarchy, but that was because the city developed in different sections aligned to local landmarks or landscapes, the roads having to hook up eventually. The longest straight streets were the ones that had originally been lone country highways in the middle of nothing that connected distant developments, like Downtown and West Hollywood.
The Valley, meanwhile, had started out as immense, flat farmland, covered by huge rancheros originally owned by a handful of Mexican families, back when the southern third of California was still part of Mexico. Coraline would never have believed that of course, and it was a very unpopular subject to bring up in Simi Valley, but it was true.
While what Valley people called “the other side of the hill” developed in fits and starts beginning well before the 19th century and exploded from around WW I and after, only parts of the East Valley, like North Hollywood and Burbank, started to develop, as early as the late 1800s. Up until WW II, the eastern boundary was pretty much Van Nuys, with few and far between from there west.
Well, no houses, but quite a few companies engaged in the war effort. This was where they built the bombs and planes.
Once the war ended, there was a land boom, and the land was flat and wide, so turning it into a grid was the easiest thing in the world to do — a roughly 8 by 10 mile grid with very few breaks in its regularity.
But then she found herself over the Cahuenga pass, following the freeway that ran through a gap between two sets of mountains, and finally to Hollywood, landing at Hollywood and Highland, where she found the ghosts of the famous to be quite active.
She asked some of them if they’d ever heard of Ausmann. None of them had.
“Then I guess it’s time to go free-range,” she announced, and wandered off down the street. She could tell that people were looking at her and asking, “What’s she famous for?” but she ignored them.
She was a bit star-struck by all the celebrities she did see, even if they were all dead — Bette Davis, always the center of attention; the Three Stooges (Curly, Moe, and Larry era) hamming it up for the crowd; Peter Lorre, looking very sketchy; Alfred Hitchcock, leering inappropriately at every young blonde woman he saw — he was a Class III because there were still a lot of people alive who had known him, but he still liked to use his celebrity; Valentino, posing for selfies and proving very popular with gay men; and Gloria Grahame, appearing in glorious color as Ado Annie from the movie Oklahoma!.
But there was one Rêve who had been watching her, because Pearl had sensed something and sent a Hada to give him the word. Ausmann’s wife was apparently now one of them, and she was out here — the Hadas had sensed it and reported it to Pearl.
The message was to try to bring her to Anabel so that they would have a bargaining chip to use against Ausmann, and the message was sent to Ritchie.
As Coraline got close to the Hollywood and Vine station, he approached her. “Excuse me,” he said.
She stopped and looked. He seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place the name. “Oh. I’m Ritchie Valens,” he said. She was clearly still drawing a blank, so he sang a quick phrase: “Para bailar la bamba…”
“Oh,” it dawned on her. “I love that song. But… do you know me?”
“Was your husband named Ausmann?” he asked.
“Yes. Have you seen him?”
“No,” he told her, “But I may know where he is,” adding a lie to his truthful statement.
“I really do need to find him,” she said.
“Great. If you come with me, we can go look.” He nodded and lead her down into the Metro station, then to the platforms and the eastbound tunnel.
“Let me show you how our kind prefers to travel,” he announced, and then took her with him.