“What’s there to get? What are you talking about?” Steven asked Nick, who had just said he understood the title of Iggy’s new song “Sherman Burns Savannah.”
“Iggy is jealous and must be plotting to have Savannah killed,” Nick replied.
“You think she would do that?” Steven asked.
“And some of her song lyrics include ‘I’m still in the murda’ business,’ and ‘bang, bang, bang, that AK-47, bang, bang, bang,” Nick added.
“Yeah, if guys had dating panels and I was on Christian’s, I woulda voted no,” Kayla declared. Nick, Steven, and Christian looked at her confused. “For a girl to date someone, she must submit a written application to a panel of 5 of their friends. Then, the girl must go before the panel and answer questions. Next the panel can take as long as they want to deliberate and vote. Three must approve for the girl to be allowed to date the person. You were a contentious vote, Nick. They deliberated for 6 hours and you only eeked out 3 approvals.”
“Well…I really doubt the wisdom of these panels. You must hold them all the time for your friend Brandi,” Nick shot back.
“Brandi?” Steven asked, unfamiliar with this person.
“Yes, hmm, how do I put it gently? You know how with Starbucks, a new one crops up all the time? Or the federal government getting hacked, it’s a new country doing it every time you turn around? Or Republican primary hopefuls, they just keep coming out of the woodwork? That’s Brandi with lovers. Phillip, Mason, Gisele…”
“Nick!” shouted Kayla.
“…and that was just last week…”
Christian interrupted, “so back to my old girlfriend wanting to kill my new girlfriend…”
“Yeah, man, I hate it when that happens,” Steven said.
Meanwhile, in the only moderately hipster neighborhood of Converse All-Stars de los Santos, a car with North Carolina plates was parked in front of a shabby apartment. A man wearing a ski mask crept around the car and threw a Malotov cocktail through an open window. He missed throwing it through, but it hit the exterior wall and shattered, falling into a window sill planter, setting the daisies it contained on fire. The man ran away, and the apartment’s occupant, a young female scholar, put the minor blaze out with a fire extinguisher.
The next morning it rained. It rained in LA in the summer. It never rains in LA, and it rains even less in the summer. Kayla woke up at some ungodly hour to get ready for school. She poked Nick in the ribs.
“Mwahhhh!?” Nick grumbled as he woke up.
“Come one! Get ready! You’re supposed to come in to school today and talk to the kiddos about being a chemist.”
“That doesn’t sound like something I’d agree to.”
“Well, that was after the third or fourth bottle of Sculpin.” Kayla was referring to Ballast Point Brewing Company’s Sculpin IPA, the best damn beer of all time.
“Grahhhhg mugga mugga. Fine! I’ll be over around one. I have a bunch of inventory work to do in Brown’s lab.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. She’s ordered a ton of shit lately. I’ve been more of a stock clerk than a chemist.
Nick drove his car up the hill to Brown’s lab. It was still raining slightly, which almost necessitates the deployment of the National Guard. Imagine a blizzard in Miami. That’s about the equivalency. Anyway, Nick settled into his tasks in the lab that Dr. Brown had left for him. He was to spend all morning checking in a shipment that had come in overnight. Nick didn’t recognize the shipper, it wasn’t FedEx or UPS or something like that, but the packing slips were all in Spanish.
Methylamine. Phenyl acetone. Haz-mat suit. Map of Michoacán. Shotgun.
“Shit! She’s running a meth lab!”
“Very good, Nick,” Dr. Brown said, entering the lab while clapping her hands.
“So…you’re cooking meth to fund your cancer research?”
“Cancer…what? Oh, God! No, there was never any cancer research to begin with. That crock about my mother or whoever dying…I mean you can’t hire a chemist straight up saying you’re cooking meth…you have to come up with some story, something where someone will say, ‘yeah, you know, I’d like to be part of that, lemme apply for this job.’ Despite the shitty economy that is 100% Obama’s fault because the president has 100% control over the economy and it has nothing to do with Congress or Wall Street, you were the only one to apply to the job ‘Associate Chemist, Cancer Research, Spooky Mansion up the Del Sol Fire Road, Palos Verdes Estates, California, $60k per year because this is California and half will go to rent and almost half will go to taxes, so you really won’t make much more than a janitor in Rooster Fuck, Mississippi.’ Anyway, we’re cooking meth, selling it to this distributor with ties to Michoacán, and if you say anything about it to anyone, these two bald Mexican guys who don’t say a damn word to each other, and one of them has a very shiny axe, will show up at your house, and it’ll be bad news.”
“That’s just like in…”
“That’s just like in Breaking Bad,” Dr. Brown said in a very mocking tone. “And the important symbolism and all, resembling the Grim Reaper with the axe standing in for the Reaper’s scythe, yeah yeah, they get that all the time and they’re frankly sick of it.”
A silence permeated the lab, worse the how the rotten garbage smell of a Swern Oxidation permeates the lab.
“Oh, and another thing. The day after tomorrow, at sunrise, I need you to fly a friend named Sherman and I to Albuquerque.” She stormed out of the lab, leaving Nick with a mess of supplies, and a mess of anxieties.
Christian woke up and proceeded to play his trombone. It was a ritual of his to practice it for an hour before cooking breakfast. Usually up in the palm tree in his backyard. But not always. Sometimes the palm tree at the street corner would suffice. He enjoyed playing his trombone in abnormal locations ever since middle school, which is where he met Nick. His idyllic ritual was shattered by a phone call from Savannah. Someone tried to burn down her house last night.
Nick made it to Sand Crab Elementary School barely on time. He barged in on Kayla’s lesson on Caesar Chavez, lab coat and goggles still on. The kids looked at him like a ghost had just appeared.
“Yeah, all right, whaddayou miscreants wanna know ‘bout being a chemist?”
“Nick, what the hell are you doing here?” Kayla asked, as surprised as her students.
“What!?” demanded Nick, not believing his ears. “You said I said I’d come by here this afternoon and give a speech on being a chemist!”
“Oh, honey, that never really happened. I just wanted to see if you’d actually agree to it. And the fact that you’d do it is so sweet and really means a lot…” The door slammed behind Nick as he headed back out towards his car.
That night at the Celtic Penny, Nick was drinking more than usual. He would usually drink four pints of Guinness, two glasses of Scotch or Irish whisky, plus a rum and coffee drink called the Irish Temper. But this night, he was on his fifth pint of Guinness, and his third glass of Balblair, a Highland single malt older than he.
“So Savannah says someone tried to burn down her house last night,” Christian announced.
“This is your girlfriend who went on safari on the African savannah?” Kayla asked.
“No, Kayla, damnit! We’re not explaining all this again,” Nick interjected.
“I think it may have been this Sherman fellow,” Christian continued.
Then, Nick blurted out, “My whole career so far has been a sham. Dr. Brown is making meth, not conducting cancer research. She threatened to have me killed earlier today. And she has ties to Sherman.”
“Sherman. Meth Arson,” said Steven, putting two and two together. “You know, the head of Zoning and Planning’s brother is a gang detective with the police department. He says they’ve been after this guy for a long time. He’s a drug dealer primarily, but he’ll also do murder for hire. His primary M.O. is arson. They’re not sure what he’s called on the streets, but I saw the guy’s picture once…”
Christian pulled out his phone and showed Steven the text Iggy sent him.
“Son of a bitch, that’s him!” Steven yelled.
The next evening, Nick came home from work with a stride of confidence, the confidence a person who has it all figured out possesses. Christian, Kayla, and Steven had gathered in the courtyard of the apartment complex enjoying the perfect summer late afternoon. The Golden Hour was upon Redondo, the time of evening shortly before sunset where everything is picturesque and surreal, and you are sitting in the audience of a theatre darkened by the long shadows of buildings and palm trees watching the interplay on stage between the fading hot sun of the afternoon and the cold, biting night wind off the ocean. Every evening, the cold wind overruns the hot sun and held Redondo for the night, only to be conquered by the sun late the next morning, and the cycle continues.
“Amanda should be on her ship for Chile now. She’ll be back here in about a week,” Steven announced of his girlfriend, who had been stationed in Antarctica conducting scientific research. “It’s funny. We met at Salisbury at a fundraiser some club was putting on to benefit the penguins at the zoo. She said she never thought she’d get to see a penguin in the wild one day but wanted to help them anyway. I was just there for the free pizza. We kinda also knew each other from our Catholic students group. I lived in the same dorm as this weird hippie guy who thought it was hilarious to suggest that the portal to Hell was in the backyard of the church group’s clubhouse off campus. He was somewhat of a legend around campus for having once dug a giant pit in front of the President’s House and filled it with a bunch of poisonous snakes. So she asked me about him, and we got to talking, and began to hang out more and more often. How did you and Kayla meet, anyway?”
“Because of Christian, actually,” Nick replied. “In middle school I knew Christian from band. One day in March, he got the idea to go to the park and play his trombone hanging upside down by his legs from the monkey bars. He invited me along to play my clarinet and I went with it but ‘accidentally’ broke my reed and ‘forgot’ to bring a spare. Anyway, he dropped his trombone and the mouthpiece fell off and rolled down the hill. I said I’d get it and ran after it. It rolled up to the feet of…you guessed it…sitting under a tree reading a book. And the first thing she said to me was…”
“And the first thing she said to me was ‘who the heck are you?’ Yes, you love to add that part,” Kayla said.
“Well it’s true.”
“Anyway, he explained himself, then made some sexual joke, I think. His friend is a tromboner, that’s what it was. Then Christian came down the hill to see what was taking Nick so long, and we all hung out under the tree for the rest of the afternoon. I found out I went to the same school as these two, and then I seemed to run into Nick a lot at school after that. Not because I hacked into the school’s computer system and looked up his class schedule so I’d know where he’d always be, oh , no, not that way.”
“Yes, so if it weren’t for Christian, I probably would never have never met Kayla, certainly not in any meaningful, lasting way. And that’s why it troubles me so much to see that someone has it out for Christian’s new girlfriend.”
“If only there’s something we can do about it,” Steven said. “But of course we have no real proof. I mean, the name of a song, and a few song lyrics? People in the music business today just all steal lines form each other.”
“I know what you mean,” Kayla groaned. Everyone thinks ‘My anaconda don’t…’ is a Nicki Minaj lyric, but she stole it from Sir Mix a Lot from the ‘90s. And Sir Mix a Lot stole it from the 40’s big band song titled ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you bring our boys home from the military conflicts in Europe and the Pacific, hon.’ And of course that title was ripped off of a biology textbook titled ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you got fish, reptiles, or small mammals in or in close proximity to the Amazon River or its tributaries.’”
“Don’t worry,” Nick said. “I know what to do.”
Just then, a loud clap of thunder shook Redondo. It began to pour.
At eleven o’ clock that night, Nick got out of bed. Kayla barely seemed to notice. He got into his car and headed for the freeway. Low clouds hung over the city, with the lights producing the eerie orange glow reflecting off of the clouds. It would give you an uneasy feeling if you were new to it. It wasn’t raining anymore, but the ground was still wet, and the air was cold. He got off the freeway in Pasadena and parked outside an apartment building near Cal Tech. A while later, he emerged from the apartment building a few minutes later carrying a large crate, having visited a student there named Sujay, who specialized in building robotics. The crate barely fit into Nick’s small car. Sujay helped him load the crate into the car.
“I sure owe you. Boy, I’m sure glad it looks just like me,” Nick complemented. “Looks like me, pilot’s uniform, and everything.”
Nick made it down to Palos Verdes in time for the sun to start creeping up. The sun was beginning to rise, another rude awakening that is a California sunrise, scorching the earth that had been held by the cold Pacific wind since 7pm the night before. Nick dragged the crate out of his car, which he had parked in an area obscured by some trees and bushes. He made a few last minute adjustments, pressed a few buttons, and the robot was on its way.
A while later, the pilot of a Learjet that had just climbed out of a private airstrip in Palos Verdes made a Mayday call. One engine was on fire, and the other was losing power. An air traffic controller responsible for the flight asked what assistance he needed. The pilot advised, in his very computerized sounding voice, that he wished to turn around and make a landing back at the airstrip. The controller, as per protocol, asked how many people were onboard the aircraft. The pilot acknowledged, almost programmed to do so, that there were three onboard including him. However, the blip on the controller’s radar screen that represented the plane soon disappeared.
Meanwhile, Savannah had pulled over on the side of Palos Verdes Road. She exited with her camera to document the small, unassuming creatures that inhabited the tidal pools at low tide nearby. As she walked down from the road to the shoreline, she heard the roar of an airplane, specifically one with two fully working engines at full blast. She turned around to catch a glimpse of it in a steep dive, making a perfectly choreographed slight bank to the left. It plunged nose first into a field of brush and small trees, exploding with a tremendous, thunderous sound. Although the crash happened a fair distance from any homes, residents nearby woke startled, thinking an earthquake was upon them. Flaming chunks of debris were hurled back into the air, to rain down into the chaparral and ignite minor bush fires. The largest portion of what was left of the fuselage, billowing smoke and fire, hurtled towards, but stopped just short of the road. Savannah was saved, barley, from the fiery wrath.
When Christian woke up for his morning trombone ritual, he saw smoke rising from the south towards Palos Verdes. Thinking perhaps the thunderstorm last night had ignited a brush fire with a lightning bolt, he turned on the morning news to see what was up. A surge of fear gripped him when the reporters announced that a plane had crashed, and images showed remnants of a Learjet’s iconic tail section that looked eerily familiar to him.
Christian ran across the street to Gaviota Square Apartments. He was going to ask Kayla if Nick was due to fly his boss anywhere that day. He stopped however, when he spotted Nick sitting on a lounge chair in the courtyard. “Scotland the Brave” played from his laptop. Next to Nick, on a table, was a glass of Scotch, despite the horrendously early hour. Connected to his laptop was a joystick, the kind you’d use to fly a plane with. Christian approached Nick further and noticed on his computer screen what appeared to be a set of controls identical to those of a Learjet. However, where the windshield would be, the feed was snow, as if the feed had been abruptly cut off.
Nick produced a second glass and a bottle of Scotch and poured Christian a glass. Christian accepted the glass, puzzled, but said nothing and did not drink from it at first.
“A toast to you and Savannah,” Nick offered. “May the two of you have no more murderous impediments to your relationship.”
Christian finally took a sip.
"To shitty bosses and jobs, for we have both found a way to deal with them.”
Christian took another sip.
“And to Sherman, who so graciously stopped short of burning Savannah.”