Chapter 19- Home Again
The airline abbreviation for Los Angeles International Airport is LAX, which is really a misnomer. MANIC would be truer; NEUROTIC more revealing. As Chuck strolled along the endless tiled rampways, he knew he had it made. He was one of the few travelers there with no baggage.
Actually, to be more precise, he was one of the few travelers there with no baggage who had started out with no baggage. He was deprived of the stress of waiting for his mass produced suitcases to be squeezed out of the ceiling and onto a carousel among dozens of other clones. He didn't get to enjoy the long line of irate passengers as they elbowed their way past security people could only smile when they inconvenienced someone. In other words, it was a perfect ending to a totally uneventful flight from Sacramento.
A bored limousine driver stood at the departure curb holding a sign. Chuck's assumed name, Jerry Rubin, was written on it, almost legibly. He walked on over and hopped into the Lincoln. "What a way to live, eh?"
"Yes sir. Where do you want to go?"
Chuck thought about heading for Hollywood to give his old friends a limo ride. Then he remembered that everybody he knew was probably in jail in Sacramento. He still didn't know what had happened in the assembly chambers, but the parade of police cars and ambulances he'd seen that morning chewed on him. It hadn't been a pretty visit to the capital for anybody from Hollywood, he was certain of that.
He ordered his driver. "Take me to La Maison des Chiens in Beverly Hills." Actually, it was in Los Angeles, but close enough to Beverly Hills to pass. Chuck had two of Peckerwood's gold credit cards and several of Peen's, so he decided to do his best to suck them dry at the finest hotel in town before they were cancelled. Every time the Military Policeman part of his brain started to tell him it was wrong, he'd remind himself that the cards belonged to dead men who had tried to kill him. It seemed to help.
The sprightly woman at the hotel desk greeted Chuck with the requisite, but nonetheless genuine smile. "Good afternoon, sir. Welcome to La Maison des Chiens. How may I help you?"
He put on his best plaintive persona. "Well, I just got here on business and the company's paying for the room. You don't think I should go someplace cheaper do you? I mean, it's the company's money and everything."
"A lot of business travelers stay here, sir. We get CEOs and accountants. If you compare prices, you'll find we're competitive with many other hotels in this area. I'm sure you'll enjoy your stay here. Perhaps you'd like to look at one of our rooms first and decide if you like it," she exuded.
"Uhhh, well, you're right. I'm just a little nervous. It's my first trip on an expense account. I've got a company credit card and it's kind of scary to have that kind of power. I guess I want a room here...nothing too expensive, just a nice room. You know, a home away from home." Chuck started to laugh. The desk woman joined his mirth, unaware of the irony of his small talk.
For his part of the registration ritual, Chuck offered a charge card inscribed PEEN INDUSTRIES - SALES DIVISION. "I hope this card works. It's the first time I've used it."
She took a glance at the card, then looked again. "You work for Peen Industries?" she asked, in measured tones.
"Uhh, yeah. That's right. Why do you ask?" he replied, hoping she hadn't noticed his heart in his throat.
"It's just that Mr. Peen stays here sometimes when he has guests. Do you know him?"
"Not very well. We spoke for a few minutes this morning before I came down here, but it's not like we're friends or anything. He's the boss's boss. I just work for him and try to keep my nose clean."
He wondered if anybody had yet figured out that the 'boss's boss' was dead.
"We're always glad to have Mr. Peen's people stay with us. You'll be in the regular Peen suite. I'm sure you'll like it." She studied the registration card and deciphered the name. "Here's your key Mr. Rubin. If you need room service, we'll charge it to your card without any further paper work. Please enjoy your stay. Oh, do you need any help with your bags?"
He had his dodge prepared this time. "Thanks, but no. The airline decided to send them on ahead to Hawaii."
"Oh, are you headed for Hawaii?"
"No, but my luggage is. I just hope the airline doesn't charge me for the extra trouble, not to mention the extra fuel they have to burn to send all my stuff that far." Chuck had really hit his storytelling stride.
She scrounged around under the desk for a moment and came up with a plastic packet with the hotel logo on the front. "Here, take this. It's an emergency pack we give our guests when their luggage disappears. Just a few necessities like a toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, shaving cream. It'll come in handy until you can replace yours. Have a nice stay."
As he thanked the woman for her thoughtfulness, Chuck couldn't help but think how nice those emergency packs would have been during his months on the streets. The hotel obviously thought nothing of providing free necessities to people who could afford their own, but he'd never known anybody to give them to people who could barely pay for them at all. He quietly grabbed the packet and the flat piece of plastic that passed for his room key, then headed for the elevator.
"Hot damn." Chuck approved of the place as soon as he'd figured out the magic of the plastic key. It was notably nicer than Rubby's semi-regular SRO rooms in Hollywood. But as he surveyed the antique furniture, he didn't see a bed. "Hell, I'll find it later," he muttered as he tried a door that might be the bathroom.
But it wasn't the bathroom. Instead, a decadent bedroom greeted his startled eyes. It was decidedly French; pseudo pre-revolutionary by the look of it. He easily pictured Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at the almost historic dressers, getting dressed for a hard day of oppressing the peasants.
The canopied bed's curtains were open. They revealed what might have been a waterbed under layers of feathered comforters. It seemed a bit tacky, but Chuck hadn't slept in a bed in over two years. His sensibilities quickly got over the decorator's artsy assault on historical accuracy.
As he crossed the room, he noticed that a door opened onto a tiled floor beyond. He slipped in and snapped the light on. A decadence came to life that might have been enjoyed by a modem Roman emperor. The mirrored walls duplicated views of golden faucets, golden fixtures, a golden bathtub, and even a golden toilet. He saw a golden Jacuzzi at the far end, reflected an unknown number of times through countless mirrors. Its pumps gurgled to life when he turned the lights on.
The statue of a boy greeted Chuck's approach. Michelangelo himself might have taken this cherub as a lover while he posed for the master's chisel. It was hard not to notice that the artwork was peeing into the Jacuzzi. Chuck let out an amazed giggle. "I'll be dipped in shit."
The original paintings added a nice touch to whatever walls weren't mirrored, but Chuck didn't critique them. He just stripped off the late governor's suit, and jumped into the warm, swirling waters. "It's probably Perrier," he muttered in impressed bemusement. As he stretched out in Midas's spa, the day's terror melted away like a batch of liver-flavored cotton candy. The bubbly water washed away the fear and stress as Chuck slipped into sleep.
Chuck shifted in the spa. As he did, water splashed into his face and he startled himself awake. His muscles felt as though they'd been stretched, then tossed into a soup.
Fearing that he could easily drown himself, he dragged his partially stewed carcass out of the spa. He crawled across the bathroom, through Louis XVI's bedroom and onto the canopied waterbed. Sleep or death, either choice would have felt perfect. He rushed forth to greet either on multiple layers of comforters, then snuggled against the liquid luxury of his mattress.
His sleep was interrupted by the phone's chirp. "Chuck, you've got to help us." It was Matthius. "The police have all of us, and they plan to charge us with murder. They wish to bargain with us, but first, we must convince you to turn yourself in. They believe you planned this, and they say they would let us go if you surrendered and confessed. They only want to know how you organized all of this. Then they will set you free. Repent, Charles, and the Lord will forgive you for your murderous ways. We know you didn't mean to kill those three men up there. Help us, free us, you owe us that much."
Chuck jerked upright and bounced with the waves of the waterbed. He looked for the phone as the bed undulated. When he couldn't find it, he convinced himself the call from Matthius was just a dream.
He tried to get back to sleep but couldn't. The yielding softness of the waterbed unsettled him. It felt wrong when compared to the firm concrete mattresses of the street. Eventually he got up and searched for the television that he knew had to be hidden somewhere.
When the antique door popped open, Chuck felt he'd stumbled onto an authentic Louis XVI large screen color television. He grabbed the remote control and urged the glassy-eyed monster to life. Hungry for news, he flipped through the channels in search of word about the day's abortive demonstration. There was plenty.
"...Authorities say today's mass assassination of the thirty two assemblymen and at least a dozen staff members was a well planned effort that may have involved African-American revolutionary political elements. The violence was apparently orchestrated by well known black activist, Reverend Matthew Matthius. Matthius is one of the demonstrators who were shot and killed when a SWAT stormed the legislative hall."
The reality percolated into his brain slowly. Chuck flipped channels and saw Capt. Dan Smucker, Police Tactical Team superimposed on the screen below a bedraggled cop's face. He turned up the sound to hear the captain's voice.
"...No, absolutely not. My men fired no weapons at any assembly member at any time. The unfortunate deaths of the members of the state assembly were caused by bullet wounds that came from advanced weapons fired by the demonstrators. We are investigating where the demonstrators got these advanced weapons, and expect to make arrests within the next few hours."
"What the hell are you talkin' about cop?" Chuck yelled at the TV image. "We didn't even have any weapons."
"A reliable source in Sacramento says the mass execution of the California Legislature was well organized and well funded. Several suspects are being sought nationwide by police agencies this evening. Meanwhile, many are asking about the whereabouts of Governor Peckerwood and Assembly Speaker Weede. An attempt on their lives was thwarted by police officers in Speaker Weede's office this morning, but neither of the men has been seen since their harrowing brush with death."
"Has everybody in this state gone pissy-eyed crazy except me?" Chuck whined. He switched to yet another TV newscast.
He briefly saw his own face delivering the morning's speech with the name State Sen. Danforth White superimposed across the lower screen. His face was abruptly replaced by the word BULLETIN. After some fumbling, an announcer came out from behind the slide, mouth in gear. "Lieutenant Governor Mike Kaiser has just declared a state of emergency for the entire State of California and has ordered national guard units to report for duty. The action is probably related to today's mass killing of at least thirty California Assemblymen by radical homeless demonstrators and black militants."
By now, Chuck roamed the room nervously, remote control in hand. He flipped through the channels as he paced.
"...an unconfirmed report says three previously unknown radical groups have called government agencies across the state to claim responsibility for today's Capitol Massacre. Authorities say they are checking each lead for clues. In a related story, three unidentified homeless activists were shot to death today as they tried to kidnap Governor Oral Peckerwood, Assembly Speaker Richard Weede and famed industrialist Theodore Peen. The leaders reportedly are under tight security, pending a determination of the depth of the conspiracy that spawned today's assassinations. Sources dose to the Governor say he'll make a statement shortly."
"Oh yeah, how, by Ouija board?" Chuck mockingly challenged the TV set.
Another hour in front of Louis XVTs TV convinced Chuck that nobody had a very clear idea of what had happened. Most of the demonstrators were apparently either dead or in jail. However, he decided that nobody was looking for him, so he got cleaned up and headed out to escape the evil-speaking television.
Although he wasn't very hungry anymore, it was dinner time. He stuck his head into the hotel's own restaurant, La Biche Incredible. The service was snotty and the line was long, so he hit the streets on foot.
The sun had slipped into the Pacific Ocean during the newscasts, apparently unnoticed. It was already dark as Chuck looked into the darkened shop windows. He made a mental note to treat himself to a new wardrobe tomorrow, courtesy of PEEN INDUSTRIES, SALES DIVISION.
He'd never imagined how dead Beverly Hills could be at night, but then, he'd never had much reason to spend time in Beverly Hills any time of the day. He wandered east looking for an interesting restaurant. His anus tightened as he walked under the bright blue "West Hollywood' sign fastened above the sidewalk. He was a couple of blocks from Trendy Melrose Avenue when two guys slipped out of the darkness.
"Hold it right there, fag boy," barked the skinny man with no chin. "You queers sure dress nice don't you?"
"What do you boys need?" Chuck challenged.
The chunky macho man eyeballed Chuck and quietly replied, "We need money. You're going to give it to us, nice and quiet, comprende?"
"So you boys have a weapon and you want my wallet, right?"
"Shut you sissy yap and give us the wallet, faggot," snapped the skinny one. "We don't need any weapons to kick your candy ass, you faggot."
Chuck wasn't convinced, so he shoved the skinny one into the chunky one and ran the other way. He found the sidewalk and sprinted toward the lights and safety of Melrose Avenue with two thieves on his ass like a tandem trailer on a tractor. He only had a few steps on them, but he was running for his life.
Unfortunately, the two pursuers were running for something even more important; drug money. They easily caught Chuck and shoved him into an alley. The seams and fabric of his suit gave way as he struggled to free himself from his tormentors. After they took his wallet, they alternately held him or smashed his stomach and face with fists and feet.
As the muggers walked away from Chuck's prone form, the skinny one commented, "He put up a pretty good fight for a queer, but I still could have handled him alone."
"Bullshit, the only thing you can handle alone is your dick," the chunky one fired back. "Hey, look at this. Can you believe this guy wrote his code number on the back of his card? Man, tonight's our lucky night."
As he picked random parts of himself back up from the alley pavement. Chuck checked each pocket to see if he had anything left. He didn't. His face and clothes were covered with alley dirt. Nobody would be impressed by his fine suit, now ripped beyond repair, top and bottom.
As he gathered his wits, he realized that the only sanctuary he had was his pre-paid hotel room. The woman said she already had his imprint, so he could still call room service and charge things to his account. It brought small cheer to him, but at least his immediate needs would be met. It hurt when he realized he'd started to count on his now extinct line of credit.
He tossed his decimated jacket into some bushes and made his way back to La Maison des Chiens. As he limped along the West Hollywood sidewalk, his dizzy brain toyed with actions he might take. He really didn't notice the drab American car as it matched his pace in the street next to him.
"Hey, you, stop right there. We want to talk to you," shouted a burly deputy. The man obviously spent more time in gyms than in libraries. He rose from the car in a single motion, then questioned Chuck as they waited for the driver to join them. "What are you doing in this neighborhood?"
"I was on my way to dinner when a pair of men beat me up and stole my wallet," Chuck responded unsteadily.
"Yeah, right. So I guess you don't have any ID on you either?" growled the beefy deputy.
"That's true. They took everything I had and left me in an alley."
The driver slammed his door and approached. His rugged good looks would have been quite at home modeling underwear for mail order catalogues. "Lighten up Lance, if the man's been robbed, you can't expect him to show you ID. Sir, where did the robbery take place?"
Chuck started to answer, but was cut off.
"Son, you're still a rookie, so I'm gonna cut you a little slack. When you deal with as many of these street types as I do, you know a con man right off.'
"But what about his injuries? He has blood all over him."
"And he's gonna have a lot more on "im."
When Deputy Boyle's baton found Chuck's stomach, it made him double over. As he did, it caught him on the chin.
The driver was surprised. "Are you sure this is okay Lance? It seems a little severe."
"Hell yes, kid. This is how we maintain order in the real world."
The piggy deputy knocked Chuck down and tenderized his spleen and kidneys with a dozen expertly placed kicks. He stopped for a moment and yelled into Chuck's bleeding ear, "That's for all the good, decent people you dirtbag homeless scum murdered today at the state capitol."
"But he was already pretty busted up," interjected the driver. "What if you kill him?
"Screw that. There's plenty more scumbags to replace 'im if he croaks. If we don't give this lowlife a taste of the real law, some judge is gonna pin a medal on 'im and send 'im right back out here. We're the law, and creatin' respect for us is part a' the job." He made sure Chuck had stopped moving, then turned for the car. As he opened the white door, he added, "Come on Junior, that workout made me hungry. Let's go get us some food."
The word SHE RIFF on the car trunk disappeared into the darkness of the well lighted street. The criminal system of American justice was safe for another night.
Chuck's blood oozed from every orifice, but the brain smashing pain eased when he went into shock. Maybe he'd get a full night's sleep on the sidewalk, now that he was home.
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