Art and Literature

_Vintage_, chapter 1

Friends — in honor of this dark place we have arrived at, I share with you chapter 1 of VINTAGE, a novel that some of you have read in manuscript form. This is not a story for kids or for the faint-hearted.

Enjoy.

 

VINTAGE

Chapter 1

Some lower-down office assistant at the mega-firma WOLF-SIEMENS-INTERTEL phoned Saunders on the oldsstyle euro Nextel mobile.

It was Mercoledi in 2080 LA when the call came in, and the smogometer readings were cresting at the unacceptable level, while what was left of the stock market was plummeting downtown, like it did every day these days.

“Ms. Tagger of Government-Media relations wants your primest Vintage fashion shit super rapido,” said office-girl to Saunders.

“I got what she wants,” Saunders said without hesitating, because she smelled a beaucoup needed transfuse of cred.

Besides, she wasn’t one to hesitate.

Ever.

Office-girl took down the address and hung the hell up on her after saying a curt “Wait outside”   – a corp bitch-puta if ever there was one.

But goddamn — five minutes later an actual corporate helicopter landed at the corner of Ivars and Vine. A red-capped pilot jumped out and opened the door.

“Sit back, and relax, Frauelein-ita,” he said, as his purple tinged dreads blew in the sick-smelling Santa Ana wind.

The pilot was pretty fucking handsome: Afro-German with high cheekbones – a look Saunders, as a Romany-Norge with a slight touch of Rusky, totally dug.

But there was no time to do him. Biz had to be transacted, and biz always came first.

So, Saunders sighed, entered the heli, and used that nano-second between the semi-upright and the glorioso release into some at last luxury shit to do her usual rapid-fire visual recon.

The interior of the helicopter looked safe.   No submach guns, no poiso-gas vents that she could see.   You had to watch for that shit. The corporates — they had the gov permissions to carry the guns in LA.

And the air smelled pure – the ionizers going full throttle, humming out the nasty toxins that gave everyone the Krebs, the big C these days.

But entebeh, thought Saunders. Watch out.   Media and Gov were conjoined at the reconstructed live-o-bone plasticose tm hip, so when you dealt with them you dealt with the big time pericolo, maybe.

But, maybe just maybe you could get some $$.

Finally, enfin, sa katapusan.

Saunders looked down and stretched her legs out, long killer legs, as someone once said to her during a real frisky 4 way down in Desert Hot Springs after that surprise hippy fringe leather jacket heist in Riverside a couple of years back. She tightened and released some major electro-pilates enhanced quads, adjusted the Genuflex circa 1999 bike shorts, and unfolded her smooth, titanium-coated kneecaps. Then she extended those surprise girly-slim shins and ankles, peeking out from time to time from the black boot-inlines – the best retrofitted Oakley marathon bladers available in this sorry ass NorthAm market.

The ones with the oxidized-platinum wheels.

Saunders raised her arms over her head, arched her back, and realigned her liquid steel spinal reinforcements, smacking the blade wheels down on the carpet, rolling them over some dried, half-erased blood clumps, a couple of incisors, and some maligno-mint gum wrappers.

There were two bullet holes in the yellow leather right behind Saunders’ left shoulder, leather being hard to patch these days. But the alcho-hoses were primed and at the ready. Saunders nodded approvingly and put out her hand. The Stoli Citron tube snaked itself out, and Saunders took a big slurpy swallow. It was freezing, and it slid down ice-nasty, a liquid shiver.

She took in the buzz and looked out the window and there was L.A. in all its hazy toxic glory: the smoldering burnt out section of Hollywood from where the Tokyo Taliban hit last year, the towering arcologies of Los Feliz, and in the distance Griffith, surrounded by wires, private armies, and tanks. The tranquil homes of the rich.

The city was quiet these days. The skyrocketing price of that disappearing resource — the big crude – consequented in a mostly no automobile situ here, and that bad scene dominoed into the eventual bankrupting of any mass trans that used the pure gasoline, as well as fairly impressive mass flights out of town by the mid-class urbies with kids. This in turn forced the closure of LA Unified, which – admitted — wasn’t much to begin with.

Mostly falling down, LA was.

Except for the Wi-Fi towers. Snaking up and down and across the horizon like techy side-winders, the new gov surveillance system was closing in, all gradual-like, hiding in plain sight.

Other than that construction, though, the city was getting to be real Kowloon-style. Surrounded by disrepaired appliances, broken windows, and semi-collapsed ceilings, the working poor and the rems of the lower middle-Klasse hung onto their shit jobs, their shit stores, and their shit going chapter 11 businesses. Only a handful of richies stayed in LA. The Hollywooders of cellulo, vid –screen, and pixel-ized fame, along with a few corrupt Pac Sector gov reps, and your usual detachment of opportunistic multi-corps industrial captains still maintained in big mansions. The powerful ones egressed only sporadically, but when they did, they zoomed or soared triumphant in increasingly hard to obtain hybrid-limos, hybrid hum-v-s, nuke-powered vans, and aero-vehicles past the abject mule and oxen teams trucking in the food and sundries from the trains.

But if you weren’t one of the wealthy few like those individus, you were a jerk on foot, traversing a flat, wide desert of a city, or you were on a bicycle, but only if you could keep it from getting pinched by the nasty Polizei (who kept on requisitioning cycles, aka stealing).

Or you were on blades like Saunders.

But not today, she thought. Today I climb back out of this fucking abyss of what used to be called lower bourgeois thralldom.

From now on I’m flying corporate shit.

Only.  

Saunders settled into the cool leather, and took her 4 requisite chi-building breaths, wishing someone sexish was sitting next to her. She’d never O’d in a helicopter, and there was no time like the present.

At last the bons temps return, she thought, rolling her lips over shark-sharpened black obsidian teeth: her last and latest micro-surgery after scoring a cache of 1940’s cotton handkerchiefs in an abandoned Screaming Meemies warehouse in San Dimas, a few years back.

Since the Screaming score, and even before that, the good times weren’t so certain or so secure for Saunders.

Which meant she had 2 options.

Steal from and if necessary kill the ones that were lucky enough to have, or bad enough to forcibly obtain the bucks and the fun, and kept it all greedy for themselves.

Or serve them. And garner the little crumbs that fell from their fucking table.

“Or,” Dad had told her once – shit, was it 18 years ago? — “There’s the third alternative.”

Student Wetherly, a warrior remains focused on the present, encased in the moment – she…

It was her cerebral implant — Coastal Dojo’s SuperSensei 3000 for Windows — interrupting this super-fino, bittersweet type rev about Poor Dead Dad.

Run the systems check, already, she psy-spoke back.

SuperSensei chirped into action – imaging a list of to-do items complete with that goddamned annoying   paperclip which jumped into her imaginary from time to time with the fucking stupid “can I help you?” balloon.

While the stats ran, Saunders memmed real fast the big house in Brentwood where she lived as a kid. Playing twisty dark games with the rich boys and girls from next door. Tie-up type games, and locking the littlest kids in closets. And hacking off dolls’ heads. And burying them near the pool.

All enhancements go, said SuperSensei.

Saunders stretched her legs again, and took another hit of Stoli.

Vintage clothing sales had become her business thanks to Dad. It was a direct inheritance from his highness, Duke Dimitri of Studio City Productions, sub-rube of ParaCanal. Star of Real Time with Real Threds streaming global and 24/7 on Internet 1 before the FEDS got hold of it and made it a place for cyber-surveillance. Which happened right after Dad snuffed it.

Dad.

Fashion consult to the stars and to the Pentium clean room worker alike.

A democrat of the beautiful.

And now the vintage fashions he’d amassed were all that stood between her and total outship in these down days since he died. Her and her mom kept trying, and failing, to make rent on the ever smaller house, townhouse, bungalow, condo, studio. Down Saunders spiraled from B-wood, to Silver Lake, to Culver – to her current reside: a condemned library building in Hollywood proper, and a pretty darned good collection of twencen and early twentyonecen vintage apparel hiding out with her in the goddamned biblio basement.

But it was tricky work trading the vintage now. The sources had been drying up for years, and then came the Protection of the Past Act in 2078– no trafficking in art objects, furniture, clothing including shoes, and textiles, from before 2045.

On one hand this was bad.

Vintage became so felonious, so forbidden, you had to be careful about even mentioning it in public places.

But on the other hand, from a biz standpoint, this was real good because whatever retro gear remained uncommandeered by gov was now super-precious. And if you had it, you had something unique, beauteous, and of course, distinguished – that always being the paradoxical object of desire in this lovely classless society of NorthAm, USA.

Us all being self-made NorthAm persons, she thought.   And us all wanting – secretly or not so – to be a fucking king or queen.

Dad had understood that second part long ago– which is why he made himself a duke, although he was a son of a plumber from Snohomish, up north.

So the deal was you could scratch out a living with the vintage biz, if you knew where and how to op. If you avoided the spywared total-publico that was cyberspace. If you low teched it – didn’t do the www.com thing, and stuck with SFR card pay as you go cell phones, and abandoned landlines when and if you could find them.

If you used cash, not c-cards.

And if you could speak the non-english.

Then came this latest development – and Saunders grokked that this was something important.

This gov amendment called THE VISIBLE CITIZEN initiative.

It went into law in January. Now it was hot toxic July and she could see it all being implemented through the helicopter window. Below her a swarm of OPTICON techs were putting the finishing touches on a hologrammed OPTICON logo that radiated to the height of 30 stories: “Hooking YOU up for a better world,” it read in red, white and blue.

Below the logo, an enormous fucking GAP-Walmart –SuperSpar Emporium had opened its doors. With a big sign.

Trade in your old clothes and get FREE GAP-wear. Free chemo-chix dinner for the first 100 customers.

And as the copter swooped past the sign, Saunders could see it clear: there were lines of Melrose Temp Intl office workers, what looked like a gaggle of Johnny Galactic servers, and a bunch of nondescripts were going in and coming out – exchanging t-shirts, wife-beaters, mini-mini’s and pants for identical t-shirts, wife-beaters, mini-minis and pants.

From a fashion perspective, it was mighty depressing.

But there was more to it than that.

Don’t they get it? thought Saunders.

Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t, and maybe they just didn’t care that you were being hooked up in more ways than one, chica, when you gave up your own couture – not matter how hurting — for these new discount fuckers.

You see, the VISIBLE CITIZEN INTIATIVE wasn’t just gov – it was one of these typical late-capitalisto deals made between the FBI, OPTICON wireless, GAP and Wal-Mart, who had melded-molded with SuperSpar of Wales: contemporary apparel was being designed with Pentium thread, so anyone anywhere could track you on any Wi-Fi system.

The US/NorthAm gov was pretty excited about that. Especially when folks started getting the corneal transplants making the eye recog Mandate of ’75 kind of worthless.

And the kicker was the vintage couldn’t be retrofitted. Something in the old cloth neutralized the Pentium, or fucked it up somehow.

And so the old clothes could make you unique and free – freedom being hard to come by in this mad-bad world.

No wonder Wolf-Siemens wanted in on it. Although the deal was technically illegal. But almost everything was now – still people did all kinds of against the law shit, and it didn’t exactly matter. Unless you got caught, like Siegfried in Anaheim. No one had heard from him since the Weir Canyon cops nabbed him behind the Coffee Bean for selling legwarmers to those crazy OCo housewives.

I don’t give a shit about the hazard, she thought. I just want my goddamn money so I can pay off my debts, situate Mom, and get the fuck out of the country.

And now like the promised sighting of the Virgin in Pico-Rivera, came the phone call promising the big deal – the one Dad said would come, right before he died.

Can’t get the house back. Can’t get Dad back. Mom is played too.   But something’s got to be salvageable… something’s got to be able to be saved.

Saunders looked out as she flew over the ruined hull of ArcLite and Amoeba Records, and cautiously tongued each tooth, in succession. Verifying the sharpness, newly calibrated by Betsy Norega at BITE THIS THANG—dentistry for the 22nd Cen (Betsy was tall and mean and could fist you like nobody’s business — rumor had it that Blowfish named the Biggie-Mano dildo after her).

Perfect. The teeth had been a good investment. If she was attacked and her illegal but very useful micro-uzi failed, and the razor failed, and the roundhouse to the solar plexus failed, she still had her black beauties.

She checked the on-board mini-fridge. No food – too bad.

The black teeth were ideal for a meat eater, which Saunders still was, despite the expense of it. You just picked up the whole medium-rare filet and crunched through that plankton armored coating – the stuff they stuck on at the no-kill clone plant, meant to scare off SARS and TRICH and the other yuckies. It had amused her to eat this way in front of prospective clients, or edgy young sexables of just about any persuasion at high-end restaurants, although all these – clients, sex, and restaurants – had become hard to ….

Fuck.

Suddenly, the helicopter did a hiccupping lurch, the roof peeled back like a sardine can. The yellow leather seat rose with a roar and threw her ass out of the machine, the seat belts releasing with a snaky hiss. Saunders landed on her titanium kneecaps on some goddamned Mexican red tile roof. Two big white guys grabbed her.

The tiles shattered and fell on the ground. They sounded like marbles scattering.

The two guys did the total successful tackle because she was all discombobbed from the fall.

Insufficient attention, said SuperSensei. You must never let down your guard.

They got the gun, one by grabbing her shit, as the other used the super-fast infrared-protecto tech, aiming the mini screens on the messenger bag to fucking suss it out. They even pulled her razor blades out of her ear-holes.

Fuck.

Two more waiting down below.

“You gonna have to pay for that, like tile breakage,” said the guy #3 pulling her through the skylight on the roof and handing her down the ladder to the 4th guy waiting below.

“You clumsy dyke,” said the #4, as she planted her skates accidentally on purpose on the femur separating his ankle from the boot. He screeched a bit and went down, but from somewhere a #5 and a #6 quickly took his place, stepping over #4 like nothing had happened.

“Bi,” she said. “Most metro, my brothers,” But they were idiot West-tech bodyguards, and didn’t get the ironic type vid-reference.

Sexual orientation is quite irrelevant in this conflict, observed SuperSensei.

Doesn’t the Israeli tactics chapter of the Coastal Dojo’s Combat Manual call for the use of humor when outnumbered? she psy-spoke back, as the goons dragged her through heavy oak doors.

SuperSens didn’t answer; it never did when it was proved wrong.

Which was often.

Two minutes later Saunders was standing in one of those grand-style Spanish great rooms, with vaulted ceilings and intricately painted wooden beams. She glimpsed winding staircases, wrought iron chandeliers, and stained glass windows.

The works.

Someone started talking at her. Clicking towards her in a fem-ish shadow, back lit, til she came near the monster size candelabra on the black baby grand.

“We know all about you,” monotoned the witchy reddish blonde woman who lived in this goddamned big place near the old Observatory, “We know about your little business of sniffing out Vintage for certain high rollers. We have even heard you have your own cache, which is now totally, thoroughly illegal. Yes?”

The woman had tired looking over-processed way burned frizzly-bad hair, but she had a Renaissance Italian face all white and pink, and she was big and big breasted, muscled in that enhanced way that cost way more than the Saunders’ teeth did, and Saunders couldn’t use them now, because the two guards were holding her arms and her head, keeping her mouth closed with a leather padded vise.

Oh yeah, and the guards were doing the usual strip search.

She checked them out in fragments as they pushed and pulled and prodded. The guards were all tricked out in a lot of black latex, and silver trim: Terminatron brand gear – black leather jackets, wraparound sun-specs. Authentic, reconstituted 2004 shit, and expensive.

Their eyes covered in requisite black sunglasses. Corny but effective.

“I need a superior authentic wardrobe,” said the Ren-Woman, whom the guards called Miss T.   Saunders shivered, knowing that this dame was Tagger herself of Wolf-Siemens — one of the twinklies on the power grid of this town, this country.

“For the upcoming inaugural and reality show, called WHITE HOUSE PIMPED,” T continued.   She walked up and down the room as she talked, her red stilettos clicking and probably scoring the shit out of the parquet floor. She wore a matching red corduroy 1990’s sleeveless jacket over — not much else. She wore no makeup. Going for a sort of early 00’s fetish post-fem style.

Not an original look, particularly.

But it worked on her, somehow.

“The president has offered us a contract to manage his publicity. We are going for a retro look for his wife and family –to match his fabulously retro values.   And the public will get to eat, drink and sleep with the commander in chief. So we’ll need a lot of stuff – it will be nifty!“

Spare me, thought Saunders. No one follows that upper level gov shit anymore, what with the kindacollapse of that checks and balances thing and the kinda sorta martial law thing we’ve been living under – for like forever.

“Not forever,” Dad once said when she sat in the green Brentwood kitchen studying “our country” in school. “It hasn’t been like this forever. It just seems that way.” He was prepping for a shoot, and he had on his signatorial Burberry trenchcoat, and the camera people were there, hovering respectfully, near the big fridge.

“And thus the beautiful became our consolation,” he added in that way he had where you couldn’t like tell whether he was serious or not.

Student Wetherly, said SuperSens. Pay attention.

T’s show seemed stupid as all hell, but its very idiocy made it perfect for primetime, Saunders figured.

So she tried to focus, making mind-talk notes on the psy-pi, which was part of the SuperSensei bundle.

“I’ll give you 2 days to find the following,” the big woman said.

T stopped and looked down at Saunders. Her eyes were grey with long purple perma-dyed lashes.

Yeah, ok, Saunders thought. She’s pretty pretty.

How long are her labia, I wonder – how tight is her—

Student Wetherly, said SuperSensei. Please.

“You have a chance to make some creds, and if we like you, we’ll give you a consulting contract that should make you real prosperous. Or else, it’s just the end of the line. This isn’t exactly an official conversation, and we can’t have any more fucking leaks. The Prez must protect his Christian image after all. So this is do or die,” she said breathlessly, leaning in towards Saunders. She nodded at the guys, and they tightened their hold on Saunders.

“You follow?” T waited a beat, and then gave the signal to ease up. The guys loosened the vise, so Saunders could talk.

“Thanks,” said Saunders, “But why me, why not my competition? Why not Ferrara, or Doyle, or the Smacker Sisters down in the Valley?”

“You’ve been recommended by one of our executives,” said T, moving her face even closer to Saunders. Good pores, nice-ish complexion.

And on her the smell of apricots, figs, and small white flowers.

Saunders inhaled the fragrance. Yum. Then she hesitated. What executive would want to do her a goddamned favor?

But then she thought, fuck it — I need the creds.

She inhaled T’s scent again, and she thought, yeah I know why you chose me.   Because T knew that Saunders she had the vrai vieux as they said in La Villette, at that retro-wear magazyn near the broken highway outside of beautiful, poisoned Paris. She possessed the truly old shit – dating 50 years back, and even earlier all the way to some rare twencen articles. The others – Ferrara et all — they went for the trends, the 2060 stuff and the turn of the twentyonecen neo neo imitations of imitations.

But I have the real thing. Thanks to Dad.

So she narrowed her eyes, all biz-womanish, pretended to like reflect hard, and then nodded sagely as the big guys held on to her.

“I’ll take it,” she said, and named a real high price.

“Done,” said T. “6 million, it is. American red.”

Like the lady, Saunders was about to say, but T started walking up and down again, rattling off the list:

“1.        One black crepe mandarin collar evening gown with train – you know, Chinese, like old-fashioned.”

Saunders shifted her eyes left and right, and T nodded at the guards. They released the full nelson.

“Do you want late twencen or earlier?” said Saunders.

Good to demo right off the bat that you knew your styles.

T stopped, turned around, came back and smiled big.

“Can you actually GET earlier?” she said. She put a large, square and pretty adept looking hand on Saunders’s shoulder.

“Maybe,” said Saunders.   She started to jut out her chin, which is what she did whenever she got impatient – which was often.

Then the hard-drive behind her left ear kicked in.

To reign in one’s aggression, intoned SuperSensei 3000, is to approach the mountain of perfect enlightenment.

Take this down and can the commentary, Saunders psy-spoke, regretting for the millionth time this particular enhancement decision. Her former Karate-Krav Maga Fusion teacher, Clive Bolton, had urged the advanced belts to have the implant, insisting it would help them remember the katas and defense maneuvers.

He was always pushing merchandise on the students – from stickers and badges to custom model belts blessed by Dalai Lama of Stuttgart, or whether the hell he was living now.

But SuperSensei had seemed like a smart investment – and besides she’d gotten it at a huge discount.

Because of her rank.

And her special relationship with the boss.

But the fact was SuperSensei didn’t help you remember shit. What you did get, though, was an interactive cyber-jerk, who periodically interrupted the proceedings with smart-ass neo-Zen questions, laced sometimes with the more ridiculous kabbalistic sayings.

Today was no exception.

“Sure, I can get vintage as early as you want” she corrected herself, tilting her head at T, and letting her eyes quickly move up and down the red cord jacket and Agent Provocateur undies in what Saunders classified as her best cruise-the-babes-on-Sunset mode. “No worries.”

“2.“ T continued, after brushing something invisible off of Saunders’ collarbone.

“One 90’s sundress.”

Saunders thought-talked for a second and then nodded again.

“3. and 4. — If you indeed have earlier vintages, then let’s see if you can produce a peignoir and matching robe – 80’s or, if you can do it 70’s and a Jackson- style suit, preferably blue, preferably with big blue buttons.

“5. — One black silk kimono – early twentyonecen.”

Ooh, that’s an easy one, honey. Saunders thought.

  1. A pair of 1950’s cat-eye glasses.”

Fuck.

But she looked back at T, smiled her blackest, sharpest smile, and said,

“OK.”

“I prefer Virgin Dead Stock,” Red said, fingering Saunders’s left nipple ring.

“But sometimes I’ll accept something worn, if it’s in very fine condition. Particularly if it’s well tended and cared for.”   And then she pinched Saunders, playfully it seemed, on both sides right inside those hardbody hips.

“But just a minute, “ said T.   “I’d like to verify that you are tough enough to be our courier. You may run into some danger – it’s always possible.” She flicked her eyes.

And the two guards were on her.

Saunders didn’t like being without her gear, and she sure as shit didn’t like fighting on command – it brought back everything she hated about the dojo. The big bad mems started to stir and rustle in her mind-files. She clenched her fists, released them, and did two big ascending success breaths.

Good breathing, said Super-Sens. Now – concentrate: Immortal man strikes called for here. Wait til they come in.

She focused: it was true – shit could happen – and you had to be prepared, like that time in the sauna at LA Fitness when she fucked the girl who then came at her with a goddamned kitchen knife that she’d hidden in the coals.

What some girls will do for a 1980’s raincoat.

So Saunders waited until the goons were close, real close and then she pulled back the little fingers of each hand, extended the other two and thumb, and exhaling sharply, zapped both those guys in that delicate spot above the clavicle.

They fell hard on either side of her.

“Are they dead?” said T, looking down at them. She seemed both scared and interested – a look Saunders always liked in a girl.

“Hell, no,” said Saunders. They’ll come to in 5 with god-awful neck pain.”

Your aim on the left was 1.2 millimeters off, offered SuperSensei 3000.

Saunders shook her head as she pulled the shorts and busenhalter back on. If she could only get that goddamn implant out of her head.

If you kill me you kill yourself, SupserSens had told her one time when she started poking around in there with a chopstick after he’d interrupted her cruising a nice Saudi honeymoon couple at the Avalon Hotel Bar.

Don’t tempt me, she psy-spoke before bending over to blow the good-looking guy with the largish dick ring, while she stroked the girl’s very nice little breast.

“That was real good,” decided T, her arms akimbo. Admiring.

“Now get out and get to work.”

Saunders got her clothes back on, and two new guards in the same Terminatron crap hauled her ass out into the helicopter, and ejected her into a dumpster near Elysian. But it was an ok fall, into mostly paper and plastics.   Recylables. Landfill.

She lay in it for a moment, relaxing.

“Why the big fucking rush,” she’d said to T, looking up from the passed-out guys, walking over and placing her hand gently over the boss lady’s pubic bone.   She cupped the mound, and pressed. Fighting did that – made her want to fuck her brains out, or swim a 100 miles, or drive a truck 100 miles an hour.

That is, if she knew how to drive.

But yes, that power-flip, from the one with all to the one with none. She liked doing that.

She’d had practice.

T looked dazed and for a moment, Saunders thought there might be some good times with that redheaded chick that did power publick relations and probably was smart. Hell, she liked the smart ones, the big breasted smart ones who did not know who the fuck they were under all those smarts, and would give anything to have someone show them, and Saunders could do that, you bet.

But no, T took a stilettoed heel backwards, and Saunders let her hand fall away. “The post-election,” said T. “A lot to do. And the visual re-mastering.”

Whatever. Political people.

*****

It was all super easy – which was how it was supposed to be, right? She had all T’s retro in stock at home or could get it – and had gotten it – super vite.

Dad said it would happen like this – from nothing to something that was the shit. The great NorthAm success story.

By Thursday she had everything but the glasses, and was feeling good, her half-skull freshly razored by Angellika, the former singer/dental hygienist/biologist/computer scientist who cut hair down in Echo, after running out of jack for a double major at UCLA.

Saunders sat in the barber’s chair in the bright orange and yellow kitchen, and she moved her head forwards, and back, while Angelika buzzed and clipped.

She imaged being 11 and there was a vivid-clear mem of her and Dad standing in front of Neiman Marcus in Bev Hills with the crew of REAL THREDS while Christi Love, his favorite stylist, worked him over.

“Look what happened to crude oil,” Dad said, although – at that time — Saunders didn’t know what the hell that was.

“What are they teach you kids these days?” said Christi Love while she fixed Dad’s face, put the drops in his blood-shot eyes, and covered over the tracks on his arms and on his neck.

Dad kept on talking, looking around Christi’s blue-black hair at Saunders.

“The oil dried up and those folks in Iraq Sector didn’t know what the fuck to do, and so they just detonned their nucleos and committed mass suicide.   No back up plan.“

Dad nodded at Christi, who gave him a drag from her reefer. He exhaled slowly.

“Saunders – listen — if you got a non-renewable resource you got to think ahead – beyond supply demand. You got to put enough away to keep you for life, and for that to happen you got to become an expert, a consult, someone everyone wants and needs and thinks they can’t ever live without. You need to prove shit; you need the myth and the power of the myth. With underwriters to bolster you and keep you safe.”

Christi smiled at Saunders and rolled her eyes.

“Your daddy’s got big dreams,” she said.

“Delusions of grandeur — is what they were,” sobbed Saunders’ mother at the funeral home on Holt. She was trying to get the burial gig for free, cause the IRS seized all their assets – saying back-taxes, fraud and whatever other shit they say to get your gear.

Saunders memmed Mom batting her eyes at the funeral director with her brilliantined white blonde hair, and her perfectly powdered movie-star face. She sat in her faux-fur upholstered wheel chair – an affectation, but people dug the crippled beauty thing, and she got stuff, free stuff all the time playing the pity-sex card.

Well, Saunders was lean and mean but she wasn’t greedy; she didn’t want to be famous, her face splattered across comp screens and holos.

Sometimes, though, people still reconned her from her appears on Dad’s show.

Not that she cared.

Angelika tapped Saunders on the shoulder.

“Looking good,” said A, showing Saunders her head in a bunch of flexi- mirrors that pulled down like shades around the kitchen.

“But do you know that this style is really just a variation on the age-old mullet?” The sun filtered through the thick palms, the bamboo reeds, and a sea of tiny potted cacti hanging from wires outside the windows of A’s house on Effie, a block from Echo Park Lake, where those real bad murders happened last year.

“No accounting for taste,” Saunders said, acid-green-Polaroid tm enhanced eyes evaluating the tall woman with the razor. Ang was half Jamaican, half French. Nice combo. Too bad she was strictly mono with some broad who made paintings without paper. Saunders had never met her.

“Thanks,” she said, throwing Ang some plastic coins and blading out the door.

It had been a good day all right.

From then on, though, it was strictly downhill.

It was those damned 50’s glasses. Saunders looked everywhere, threatened everyone, and used all her usual and unusual sources, not just in Manhattan and Seattle, but also in unlikely places: Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa. Eyeglasses were fragile, frail, and much prized. There was a collection of 50’s glasses under triple-flex neoprene glass at the fucking Met Museum for Christ’s sake.

***

Now it was Friday. Saunders double strapped her black nano-hide messenger bag with almost everything inside. She bladed hard down Melrose, past the mad fab stores filled with Japanese tourists and New German Frontiersmen, Growth hormoned co-eds from the Claremont Colleges with diminutive parents. And of course, everyone had Eastern European bodyguards armed with tasers, looking bored and stupid and ready to cut and run.

She stopped just past the store, and celled R for the 5th time.

R in Burbank occasionally fronted stolen First Class luggage from the airport in return for spats and platform footwear. He was on board with the Wolf-Siemens plan and was ready to fly the specs from anywhere using his contacts at UNITED WE STAND Air.

“No dice,” he said. “Sorry, girlfriend.”

“Goddamn it,” she yelled. “This is fucking important.”

“It’s weird,” he said. “There’s not a lot of retro moving these days. These richies are keeping their old shit at home.”

And he disconnected.

Oh no, she thought.

Because “almost” would absolutely not cut it with the people like the Red. It might mean dying the slow ugly, just because you just didn’t hop to it quite high enough and fast.

More likely, though, it meant something almost as bad: she wouldn’t get the money and she’d have to fucking stand still, lie low, and, hide out for an interminably long time in her crib in the former Ivars Library. From T, and not only. From a bunch of other creditors Saunders needed to pay off. Like Jasper in Culver, whom she never did quite reimburse for the leopard hats his grandma collected, or like Thea and Molls who did some stealthy salvage for her in the big houses along the river in Rubidoux. Or, more urgentishly, like her Syrian-Irish landlord, Farshid O’Malley whose rapid-fire bullshit threats were always accompanied by the sad little bleeps of Saunders’ expiring cell phone.   The Nextel was really old, and its circuitry was giving out.

The bleeps were Mom. Calling one more time for yet another stack of creds.

She would have just shot O’Malley, but he had the whole Century 21 Mafia behind him, and you didn’t fuck with the gold-coaters.

Depressing thoughts.

Saunders bladed past Agent Provocateur, shaking her head, coasting by the closed and boarded up storefront of what used to be THE WASTELAND.

Thirsty, baby thirsty, she thought. I need a little treat for my poor self.

Trouble was, a treat, with what Saunders had in the way of creds meant only two things: candy and a chardonnay.

And there was only one place to go for that with the current lack of fundage.

Rite-Aid: A poor girl’s consolation.

Saunders bladed in and shoved her oxo-face above her sunglasses. Nice, semi-clean air. Alejandra and Natori were both at register #4, one to cash and the other to bag, and they smiled when they saw Saunders, speaking in that weird ass Japanish of theirs.

Dad’s other gift to her:

“The lingoes,” he’d said over one of their many lunches in real luxe places with the servers falling over themselves with sushi and champagne and all the expensive hors-d’oeuvres on the menu.

“The key to transax is the takool thalik, langue, slovo – they trust you if you talk their jive.” He spoke more than 20 languages, while she only had a smattering of 10. But they helped at strange times. And Dad was right – the lingos created something. A warmth, a connection. And it fucked with whoever might be trying to listen in, you know, if someone did track you. NorthAm politzei, Feds, and govvers of all types were still notorious for their lack of linguistic ability.

“Namika atta puta, Saunders?” said Alejandra.

“Business finalmente, my redi-zu” said Saunders, bowing to these fine young things. No point in talking about trouble, especially if the trouble was real.

“Cerveza?” said Natori.

“No fucking way,” said Saunders. “Grgich Hills and a Nestle’s Crunch. With a reed.”

Alejandra pumped the chardonnay into squeeze bottle and stuck the red, chemo-laced straw into it, and Saunders gulped. Bit into the sugar, feeling the rice crumble beneath the black teeth. Good that the drinking laws had been abolished – made things easier, when you were in a hurry and had no time for a full bouteille de vin. And the reed would hold her til she refilled the perscrip for Xenedra – keeping the c-cells at bay. The way it was with the shitty enviro these days. Everyone was on it – like vitamins.

She paid, and walked to the exit. Crunching thoughtfully past a line of dusty looking BONG-ANIZERS, she leaned her hip against an out of order CYBER-MOJO sensual feedback machine. She sipped.

If she could just score the glasses, the corps media peeps would take her on for sure; she could ship mom out to one of the less tainted beach cities, and get back to the euro u for some bon temps. Or go out back out to the desert, like last time.

A meth-mescalated image of Palm Springs glided through her brain: 4 women, 6 men, a pool, latex, and a bunch of cool devices.

I just got to find this final item – then I’ll have everything that nervous mogulette on the hill wants.

Saunders bladed out the Rite-Aid door and was floating past the storefronts on Sweetzer.

Time was running out.

The nons were coming out in the late afternoon burn. These down and out remnants of the urb populace lived in crates and Patagonia pup tents dragged from Beverly Hills dumpsters. Or they lived nowhere, out in the open. Wearing old sports bras and boxer shorts, they strolled or crawled in the alleys, squatting on the edge of curbs, near the wrecked Mercedes and Fords and Fiats that no one drove because there was no juice any longer, except for people like Tagger. These were the folks that gave up. . . more and more every day, as unemployment edged towards 60, 65 70 percent, and those who worked made less less less and had to do more more more. So people shopcarted and hung out and snuffed it. Youngish they were who were left, cause the old ones died easy or drowned themselves in the garbage dumps lining the Los Angeles River, or got drafted to serve in the Forces. The 4th of July always being a particular big day for old ones self-terminating.

Sanitation was still removing the corpses that had piled up at this year’s firework display.

A kind of resistance.

“A crisis,” said the talk-vids that ran in grocery stores, the banks and the few remaining P.O’s. “It’s not just sad – it’s tragic.” Talking heads shook and eyes widened in broadcasted sympathy.

Saunders was thinking all this, while two LAPD with old Czech Republic assault rifles sat on horseback conferring with the 3 operators of an apparently illegally stationed OPTICON crane. Blue creds crossed palms, and the PD nodded, rode off.

Saunders drained the sweet dregs of the Grrgch, feeling down and out and on her way to non-ship (although there was a kind of cute blonde girl in an orange speedo top and string bikini with that sex for food kind of look that always seems interesting), when Mom called on the cell.

“Saunders,” she said in the squeaky crabbed voice she had – seemingly overnight — adopted. “Honey Bunch, can you come today? I want to see the paper, and I need to have my toenails clipped and the nurse won’t do it, unless I pay the supplement, and Sweetie Pie, you know…”

“Mom, I’m kinda,” said Saunders and then thought what the hell. “Yeah,” she said, “yeah, I’m coming. But just for a moment.” And she hunched her shoulders, tightened her jet-blades against the setting acid sun, and she headed over to Midway.

She hated going to Midway Hospice and Senior Kare. The smell of almost death, the smell of the old, a smell like dirt, like shit, but even the stink was faded, musty and dessicated. And all those gnarled hands and vacant eyes saying are you here to see me me me? So many of them were forgotten, except for Saunders’ mother. When she wasn’t sitting in a wheelchair, Mom trailed around in a corduroy housecoat that actually might have been worth something if it hadn’t been so stained by tomato juice, cheddar cheese, and chocolate, the things that Saunders’ mom loved to eat and ate all the time when she could get them. Making her very fat.

But her face was still so beautiful. A face that remained “lumino like Garbo,” as Dad put it, despite the layers of fat collecting around her neck and her shoulders and around her ass – god help us.

“The ass is the worst,” groaned Dad periodically over breakfast, although Mom still traded on her party-girl celeb for celeb’s sake status from time to time. She spokespersonned for SKINNY-BOTS – the bots that ate your stomach acid, until it was proved they went toxic and gave you pancreatic –c, and killed you in 4 months, if you was lucky. She lost and gained weight many times, and then just accepted the fat, like a mantle of greatness.

After that, she lost her contracts fast. She became another forgotten, formerly slightly famous person.

But she wasn’t so old, and Saunders hadn’t quite understood why Mom had given up so easily and so suddenly a year or so ago, saying “it’s too late Saunders, I can’t hustle for the dollars any more. You take the business and let me just die in peace.”

A strange decision for someone who was 55.

“No comprende Mom,” Saunders had said, filling out the paper work at Mid. “Je begriper inte,”

Her mother sat in the wheelchair, arching her perfectly penciled in black brows.

“I’m too tired for this polyglot shit of yours, Saunders,” she said – the missed edu a sore point – the lost chances of knowing something other than this. “I’m so tired, honey bunch.”

“Too tired to even walk Mom?”, she said.

“Yes,” said Mom. “Too tired for that.”

Saunders zoomed through the door of Midway with the INQUIRER under her arm. Feeling the energy, the elder hostel guard kind of hung back before he said blandly,

“Name and identification code?”

”Wetherly,” said Saunders. “Wether 263549.”

“Surrender your weapons,” said the guard, and indicated the bank of video cameras all trained on the front entrance.

Shit, thought Saunders. She hated surrendering. Guns and rounds were super hard to get these days, because all of it was now fucking imported as well as being fucking illegal. That being the case, when you checked a gun in with seguridad, you just never knew if it would be still waiting for you when you came out.

She sighed and gave up the micro-uzi and the two-inch razor dangling from her right ear.

Today was different at Midway; Mom had someone with her.

“This is my new friend,” said Saunders’ mom, “my first friend since I got here. Her name is Maizie and she used to be on the neo-stage and screen.” Maizie was incredibly wrinkled and practically lying in her wheel chair, with one eye looking vacantly past Saunders’ right ear. Her portable respirator wheezed in her lap.

“She’s feeling poorly today, but she’s really very interesting and she tells such lovely and cool stories about the old days.”

“Yes, Mom. Here’s the paper. “

Front Page Headline: Tuxedoed robbers take heiress hostage, clean out 5th Avenue penthouse.

“Hmm,” said Mom.” This looks like a fun article.“

The smell was getting to Saunders, and her nerves started pumping into Igottogettowork mode.

“Mom, I’m booking. I’ll do your nails later.”

But Mom was busy reading the article to Maizie, complete with editorials of her own,” ‘Instacam footage shows the tuxedo was a used one,’ Oh yes, it was an old fashioned kind, what my husband, the late Duke – you remember his internet show, don’t you? – called a “dinner jacket”. You can see from the photo it’s a shawl collared one – very refined. But I can’t see the shoes… Maizie sweetie, can you . . .? Well then, take out your specs.”

That last word nailed Saunders’ attention and she turned around.

Like a floppy puppet Maizie fumbled for her bag hanging from the side of the chair, pulled out an old pink leatherette case.

And Goddamnit there they were, silver blue cat-eyes with lightening bolts of silver on either side. Vintage.

“Can I look at those?” said Saunders and grabbed them.

Maizie startled. Seeing and then not seeing was too much for her, and she began to howl.

“Saunders, what in the world?” said Mom.

The video cams started rotating looking for the source of the sound, and Saunders pulled Maizie close to her, and said loudly “poor poor Maizie, there there.” The cameras veered away to a man screaming for water in another room.

But unexpectedly, Mazie put up a fight and twisted gnarled, surprisingly strong fingers around Saunders’s neck. She was trying, it seemed, to simultaneously strangle Saunders and nibble on her ear, and Saunders could feel a hot desperate breath encroaching on her left lobe.

“guar-day-lay-bay-seecles” she hissed, and Saunders could feel a spray of spittle flying onto her neck.

Saunders was about to laugh at the absurdity of it – some old chick trying to mess with her bad self — but then two powerful thumbs pressed on her windpipe and the hospital started to spin and go hazy.

Damn, she thought. But still she waited. She didn’t on princip like to hurt the girls, the fellow-fems; nope, she didn’t do it to them, unless she had to.
So Saunders bit her. Just a little. She folded onto Maizie’s withered chest, and quickly whipped her head around and pressed her upper teeth into the flesh, which tore beneath the obsidian incisors like crumpled organza. But the blood tasted salty, fresh.

“Mom, I got a delivery,” she said leaning back from the old woman. “Your nails’ll have to wait.”

”But,” said Mom as Saunders wiped her mouth on Maizie’s hospital gown, and glided out the door, blade hopping down the stairs, leaping the turnstile and saying a bright hi to the guard. She licked him on the side of the face, grabbed the guns and the razor, and then headed out onto Olympic. Flying down the street.

“Gotta run hon,” she said. And winked at him.
Twin streams of blood ran down Maizie’s housecoat in lines from the neat puncture wounds, coming to a gradual halt above her chest, as the respirator sputtered and coughed.

“Oh shit,” muttered Saunders’ mom softly, and hobbled away from the body towards the telee room.

“Hey, anyone got an Oreo?” she asked plaintively as a nurse walked by.

Saunders bladed towards Los Feliz, adrenals roaring – a scary, spooked, nervous, but a little bit oh yeah, kind of feeling. Thinking cool, good.   Contract filled and the cold cred coming in and I’ll whip this town yet, and stay, or skip, or whatev my little heart desires.

And in her hands the glasses, staring like the empty eyes of the dazed and dying.

Saunders smiled.

She felt something she hadn’t felt in a while.

Lucky.

But just as she was on the verge of believing – for the first time in a long time – that it was really going to be ok, the chirpy MEM-BIN voice of the SuperSensei 3000 chimed in:

That was too much too easy, Student Saunders. Chouang Chzu tell us that . . .

Oh God, psy-said Saunders. Not that butterfly dreaming that he’s a person shit again.

 

Categories: Art and Literature

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