It was one of those special late June days that the Greater Los Angeles
Area Chamber of Commerce tries to bronze and preserve for all eternity--as
well as for the sake of civic advertising. Semitropically hot but not
suffocating, multicolumnar traffic on the freeways actually free of
vehicular stasis by nine o'clock in the morning, no major sigalerts, and
the limpid turquoise sky brandishing a lovely pink tint thanks to a
wispier-than-usual permeation of smog.
Other than in his highly restricted capacity as a civic-minded citizen,
Maxwell Parker could not have cared less about the current condition of
the metastasizing megalopolis's vaunted but frequently arteriosclerotic
freeway system. As one of those fortunate folk who could commute from home
to office on the overstressed but still highly preferable surface streets,
he was immune to such vehicular concerns. All he had to do was drive the
few blocks from his apartment building up to Lincoln Boulevard, cross the
Santa Monica Freeway, turn right on Wilshire, and mosey his leisurely way
up to Bundy Drive, occasionally shaking his head in empathetic but
distanced wonder at the traffic reports that periodically interrupted the
He would have preferred keeping the Aurora's stereo set to one of L.A.'s
innumerable small specialty FM music stations, but starting the day by
listening to one of the several all-news channels was one way of getting a
jump on work. After all, the news was his business. Or rather, a certain
fringe element of it was. Max worked, unabashedly, in the journalistic
freak zone. His job was to make the news--not read about it.
Scrupulously avoiding eye contact with the haggard homeless hawkers of
makework newspapers who crowded the median on Lincoln and haunted the
street signals at the freeway overpass, he turned up Wilshire Boulevard.
Maneuvering skillfully around a shambling, shaggy, vaguely anthropoid
figure fervently hoping to force his energies upon the Aurora's already
speckless windshield, Max crossed Bundy and ducked smoothly down into the
Investigator's underground parking lot.
As a prolific, inventive reporter whose current status vacillated between
junior stringer and respected craftsman, his status was sufficiently
ambivalent to qualify him for a comparatively convenient parking space,
but on the lower level. Not only did he not mind having his car consigned
to the concrete abyss, he preferred it. The deeper in the multilevel
labyrinth one parked, the cooler one's car stayed during hot weather, and
the less it was subject to the unwanted attentions of visiting delivery
The modest but modern glass-sided high-rise was home to other enterprises
besides the paper, from the ubiquitous law offices that migrated
constantly in search of more prestigious addresses, to fledgling film
producers unable to afford locations close to the studios, Beverly Hills,
or the better parts of the San Fernando Valley.
The top six floors and most of the parking spaces belonged to the
corporation that owned Max Parker's employer, the International
Investigator. A youthful but energetic competitor of other weekly tabloids
like the Star, and the World, the Investigator had carved out a niche for
itself by emphasizing the newly grotesque as opposed to the traditionally
bizarre. Its computer-generated graphics were lively, its layout fresh,
its prose florid, its weekly quota of insupportable but nonlitigious
accusations slyly incendiary. It was a paper on the way up, its
circulation steadily increasing, and always on the lookout for
enthusiastic, moldable, and generally unprincipled young talent.
Max considered himself lucky. Still only in his late twenties, he had
already succeeded in dumping whatever ethics and integrity he might have
once possessed in return for scads of filthy lucre and a modicum of fame
within the field. Unlike some of his less fortunate coworkers, he had been
blissfully free of scruples for several years, dating his freedom from the
morning he had taken his carefully collected bonuses and used them to move
from the dump he had been shar-ing with a hopeless would-be screenwriter
and a short-order cook into a prime one-bedroom Santa Monica beach
apartment. By the end of the first week he knew in his heart that the
location and setting were worth any number of abstract moral principles.
He smiled to himself as the aged but still serviceable elevator carried
him upward. The owners didn't have to put more than the minimum back into
their hugely profitable old building. Given its location, people would
have lined up to rent the small but cozy apartments if they had come
without electricity, telephone, or running water.
The California summer sun was out and the UCLA coeds would soon be
emerging from hibernation, shedding their heavy winter coats in favor of
freshly molted thong and net swimsuits. Though it was still midweek, he
was already looking forward to the weekend.
"Hey, Max!" Phil Hong was a hyper would-be movie reviewer who lived beyond
his means by cadging loans from the gullible and uninformed, his relatives
as well as his coworkers. Around the office he was known, not always
affectionately, as Phil No-dough. Executing a feint to the left while
accelerating to his right, Max put a move on the eager younger writer
that, if he had been dribbling a basketball in a college game, would
certainly have made the Monday-night-after highlight film on any local
"Sorry Phil--I'm late for the morning bull session. Talk to you later,
man." Leaving a slightly bedazzled Hong gaping foolishly in his wake, Max
lengthened his stride. He paused only long enough to say good morning to
Calliope Charming, manufacturing idle small talk sufficient to gain him a
decent gander at her estimable cleavage before moving on.
conference room boasted a long window with a pleasant, if not sweeping,
view of the Santa Monica Mountains. The stunted chaparral that clung
forlornly to those smog-swept slopes was barely visible through the
increasingly turgid brown atmosphere. As the sun rose higher in the sky,
the atmosphere heated up and the ozone gremlins awoke to their noxious
toil. What had begun as a Chamber of Commerce day was rapidly becoming
little more than a fading morning memory.
The room contained a long conference table; chairs fashioned of shiny,
fine-grain plastic; insistently throbbing air-conditioning; and small
green garbage cans that were already half full. He greeted his colleagues
cheerily, swapping unforced insults and convivial small talk with the ease
of long practice, before sliding into a chair and removing his laptop from
its satchel. Hatcher (oh blissfully apropos moniker for a tabloid
scribe!), who concentrated on sports-related scandals and turpitude, used
pen and paper. So did the excessively slim but unmodelish Penelope
Nearing. Their concession to tradition impressed no one.
The raucous chatter terminated when Kryzewski lumbered in and took the
chair at the head of the table. It was as if a raven had somehow bought a
ticket to a convocation of crickets. Not only at the offices of the
Investigator but within the greater tabloid universe as a whole, Moe
Kryzewski commanded a good deal of respect as well as admiration. In the
elegiac prose of an esteemed contemporary, it wasn't so much that the
senior editor knew shit from Shinola as the fact that during his more than
thirty years in the business he had been consistently able to sell the
former as the latter.
Flipping open the laptop, Max fingered a few keys. It was
middle-of-the-line, six months old, and would be outdated in another
three. At that time he would have to buy a new one. Not because the one he
now owned was insufficient for his needs. In point of fact, a two-year-old
edition of the same machine would have been more than adequate for the
work he did. But it was important to keep up appearances. In the tabloid
business the appearance of the writer didn't matter nearly as much as the
appearance of his laptop.
After insuring that the requisite files had been brought up to where he
could get at them quickly, he looked out into the respectful silence.
Eager, venal expressions transfixed the faces of his colleagues. He was
confident his own was no less.
"Well, what have you lazy pricks and prickesses got for me this morning?
There's a weekend edition to fill and we ain't got shit to put into it.
Longstreet!" Kryzewski barked.
The reporter in question looked up from her palmtop. Her delicate fingers
were small enough to manipulate the tiny keys, and to minimize mistakes
she had filed her nails down short as a longshoreman's. Around the office
she was known as "Longstocking," as in Pippi.
"It's been a slow week, Moe. My boy in Florida tells me some cracker's
hauled a six-legged gator out of the 'glades."
The editor snorted. In the old days he would have been filling the room
with cigar smoke: carbonized essence of Havana. But this was contemporary
Los Angeles. In his day Moe Kryzewski had battled crooked union bosses,
corrupt cops, angry politicians, and homicidal movie stars, but not even
he could stand against the nicotine police.
"Photo op, no story," he commented curtly. "Got anything else?"
Longstreet pursed her lips. "L'Elegace's new summer line for the ladies
features soft transparent plastic tops over Vassarely-styled printed
skirts and culottes...