Story Excerpt

Bubble and Squeak

by David Gerrold & Ctein

 

Hu Son ran.

He ran for the joy of it, for the exhilaration—for that moment of hitting the wall and breaking through into the zone, that personal nirvana of physical delight. What others called “runner’s high.” A sensation like flight—Hu’s feet didn’t pound the ground, they tapped it as he soared through the early morning air.

A bright blue cloudless sky foretold a beautiful day. A sky so clear and deep you could fall into it and never come back. Later, the day would heat up, glowing with a summery yellow haze, but right now—at this special moment—the beachfront basked in its own perfect promise.

Hu usually started early, when Venice Beach was mostly deserted, all sand and palm trees and stone benches, all the storefronts sleeping behind steel shutters. It was the best time to run. Hu liked the crisp air of dawn, the solitude of the moment, the feeling that the day was still clean, still waiting to be invented—before the owners could ruin it with their displays of tacky, tasteless, and vulgar kitsch.

Some of the cafés were open early though, and by the time Hu reached the Santa Monica pier, run its length, and then headed back toward home, the morning air was flavored with the smells of a dozen different kinds of breakfast, the spices of all the various cuisines that flourished here.

Heading home, Hu passed other morning joggers. This was a favorite track. Nods were exchanged, or not—some of the runners were lost in hidden music, others in their personal reveries. He recognized most; he’d been running this track for more than a year. He was probably regarded as a regular by now.

The final leg. He trotted past the last of the brash touristy areas. Later this strand would teem with summer crowds, exploring the souvenir stands, the ranks of T-shirts printed with single entendres, the displays of dreadful art, all the different fortune tellers and street performers, but right now, this community was still lazily awakening, coming back to life at its own pace. There were still the occasional shapeless lumps on the stone benches—the homeless, wrapped up against the chill of the night, waiting for the heat of the day to revive them. Even in July, the morning air had a bite, with a salty flavor from the grumbling sea.

Hu turned and jogged up the narrow way that pretended to be a street, a block and a half, slowing down only in the last few meters. He hated to stop, hated to drop back into that other pace of life—the faster more frenetic life, where you weren’t allowed to run, you had to walk, walk, walk everywhere.

He glanced at his wristband, looking to see where his numbers were today. Not bad. Not his personal best, but good enough. “Probably still stuck on the plateau,” he muttered. “Gonna have to push to get off. Just not today.”

Hu opened the back gate and started peeling off his T-shirt. He liked the feeling of the cold morning air cooling the sweat off his skin. He took a moment to slow down, to let himself ease down into this world, then finally stepped through the door and called affectionately, “Honey, I’m homo—” then headed straight for the shower.

Hu Son didn’t just appreciate hot water, he loved the luxury of it. In eighteen months, he’d have his master’s degree in cultural anthropology, and after that, he’d go for his doctorate, but already his studies had given him a clear sense of how lucky he was to be living in an age where clean water was taken for granted—and hot water available on demand.

California’s drought had officially ended some years before, but Hu rarely lingered in the shower. Even at this remove, he could still hear his mother banging on the door, shouting, “Leave some for the rest of us!” Old habits endured. Today, however—today was special. So he took his time, soaping up and rinsing, three times over. He closed his eyes, paced his breathing, and allowed himself to sink into his personal contract with himself.

“I am powerful,” he whispered. “I am vulnerable,” he continued. And smiling, he concluded, “And I am loving.” He repeated it a few times, a personal mantra, until it was no longer a declaration, only his renewed experience of himself. And then, one more phrase. “Especially today!” Opening his eyes, Hu nearly shouted that last. “Because today, I am getting married!”

An electric screech interrupted him—alarm sirens outside. It sounded like the whole city was howling. Like any other Angeleno, anyone who’d lived in the city more than six months, Hu ignored it. It was meaningless noise. Everything was noise, from the daily growl of motorcycles and Asian “rice-rockets” to the nightly screams of drunks and junkies.

Hu turned off the water and heard James calling from the kitchen. “Hu, you need to get in here!” Something was wrong, James only called him Hu when he was upset. He grabbed a fresh towel and wrapped it around himself. A second towel for his hair and he headed toward the kitchen where James was standing, leaning with his back against the counter, a mug of tea in his hand—but focusing intensely on a small television on the end of the kitchen table. Without looking up, James held out the usual mug of tea for Hu.

Hu took it and pecked his fiancé on the cheek. “What’s up, Bubble? What are all the sirens for? Some kind of test?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but took his first sip. Chai. . . . “Ahh.” He glanced toward the television. The president was talking.

“Now what? Are we at war?”

“It’s Hawaii,” said James.

“We’re at war with Hawaii?”

“There’s been a quake—”

Hu’s buoyant mood evaporated. “Oh no. How bad?”

“Both Honolulu and Hilo were hit by tsunamis. Really big—the biggest ever.” James turned to Hu. “When did your folks fly out?”

“They didn’t. Dad needed an extra day. So they’re flying out this evening, they’ll catch up with us tomorrow at the hotel.”

“No, they won’t. And we won’t be there either. Honolulu airport is gone.”

“Wait. What?” At first, Hu didn’t understand. How could an airport be gone? Then he realized what James was telling him. “That’s not possible. A whole airport—?”

“And half the city—”

“Oh, shit,” Hu said, his mug of tea suddenly forgotten in his hand. “That’s—just bad.”

On the TV, the president was still talking, a row of grim-faced people stood behind him. Or maybe it was a repeat. The scroll-bar across the bottom of the screen was filled with incomprehensible words. They moved too fast for him to make sense of them. And outside, the sirens still screamed.

“Shit!” said Hu. “All I wanted was one little honeymoon—” He became aware of the sirens again. “And what’s all that noise about—? We’re not— Shit! What’s going on?”

James put down his coffee. He turned to Hu. He took Hu’s mug from him. “Squeak. Sweetheart—” His expression was grim. “It’s not just Hawaii. It’s the whole California coast. The tsunami is headed for us now. We’ve got maybe three hours before it hits—”

“A tsunami? Here—?”

“A tsunami. Here. A mega-tsunami. Just like the movie, only bigger—”

“But that was only a movie—” Hu stopped in mid-sentence, remembering that movie, that scene.

James Liddle had been SCUBA diving since his teens. After college, he’d set up his own small company, specializing in SCUBA services to local studios. “Underwater? Let it be a Liddle thing. Call us!” Because of his skill, his professionalism, his dependability, and his charming good looks, he was on speed dial for several stunt coordinators.

More than once, James had been called in to teach various film and television actors how to dive safely—or at least look like they knew how to dive safely. More than once, he’d doubled for actors who were too valuable to the studios to be allowed to do their own diving, but he couldn’t say who. Most of the bigger shoots involved nondisclosure agreements.

Hu’s family had moved from Hong Kong to Vancouver when he was eight, where his father opened a consulting service/business school, where he taught westerners how to do business in China and occasionally set up deals himself.

When Hu was twelve, an aunt he’d never met died of cancer, so his mother came south to Los Angeles to manage her brother’s large unruly family; she brought Hu with. As the new kid, as the Chinese kid, and also as the smallest and the smartest in his class, Hu was a target for bullies of all sizes—so his uncle enrolled him into a series of physical activities to build up not only his body, not only his ability to defend himself, but also his self-esteem. Eventually Hu studied karate, judo, Tae Kwon Do, and modern dance. By the time he was nineteen, Hu was earning extra money doing stunts in occasional action films. Though he never doubled for any of the major actors, he was often somewhere in the background—and in a memorable comedy, he’d been featured as one of the dancing ninjas.

James and Hu had met at Culver Studios. A massive team of stunt doubles had been assembled for a disaster picture, another overblown disaster picture, a fantasy of multiple simultaneous disasters—hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves, and the return of disco. Everyone knew the picture was going to be awful; it was assumed (though never spoken aloud) that nobody upstairs knew how bad it was—either that, or it was actually intended from the beginning to be a flop, a tax write-off, or perhaps even some bizarre kind of money-laundering. Who knew? The only people who understood Hollywood financing were alchemists, and few of them were ever allowed out of their dungeon laboratories into the light of day.

But on the ground, the money was good. A lot of people had a profitable summer working on the film. As with any big effort, there were sexual relationships, babies started, babies stopped, babies born, and of course, a few divorces and emotional breakdowns, plus a number of lifelong feuds begun and exorcised, some in private, others in public.

James had worked for seven weeks on various underwater sequences. Hu had come aboard in the last week as a stunt player, running from the onrushing water. The first few days, there was no actual water. All that was to be added later by a team of talented CGI artists in Hong Kong or New Delhi. Anyone whose name came before the credits would be taking home seven figures and points on the gross, but domestic jobs were shipped overseas in cost-cutting acts of dubious economy. But there was still work to be done locally.

They had to shoot one key scene on a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard—from Rodeo Drive to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel—and they had exactly seven minutes out of every thirty when the Beverly Hills Police Department would block off traffic for the director to capture his carefully orchestrated panic, a frenzied evacuation from unseen waves.

Hu’s job was to be part of the crowd, running down the street, running through the cars, until he finally hit a specific mark, where he would fall to the ground as if he was being swept under the killing wave—except one of the assistant directors liked his look and gave him a different role where he got to be a featured kill.

The camera started at a high angle, looking up the row of stopped cars, with the distant wave roaring toward the foreground. Hu ran toward the camera, running between the line of vehicles. The camera lowered, promising a closeup, but just as Hu arrived at that spot, a panicky driver—another stunt player—opened his driver-side door so Hu slammed into it—and then the wave overtook them both. The unseen side of the car door was carefully padded, so Hu could hit it hard without injuring himself.

The director liked the shot so much that he decided to add a follow-up bit, giving Hu two additional days of work. Finished with the devastation of Wilshire Boulevard, the film moved to a Hollywood backlot for specific closeups of death and destruction.

For these shots, the director needed real water, not virtual, and the production relocated to the Paramount lot, the site of the city’s second-largest outdoor tank—the Blue Sky Tank, so called because its towering back wall could be painted to represent any kind of sky, stormy to cloudless, that a director might need. Although the Falls Lake tank at Universal was noticeably larger, it was also more expensive to fill, filter, and heat.

The filmmakers needed a variety of shots with Asian men and women as background players. This was so their Chinese co-financers could edit a somewhat different version of the film for the Asian markets. The Chinese version would include several characters and subplots not in the American version. The joke had initially been whispered in the front office, but of course it eventually filtered down to the production crew as well—the picture would do well on that side of the Pacific, because Asian audiences like to see white people die. But to be fair, a few Chinese extras had to go down too.

Hu didn’t care, he was just happy to work. Because of his marvelously startled expression when he’d slammed into the car door, the American director wanted to follow up by showing Hu struggling for a while in real waves before finally (fake) drowning. So Hu spent a hot August morning in the tank, pretending to die—“On this next take, could you look a little more terrified, please?” Dutifully, Hu struggled, gasped, and waved his arms for help that would never come, until finally disappearing obediently beneath the surface of the foaming water.

The tank was barely four feet at the center, the waves were machine-produced, and the foam was a specific detergent. Floating across the entire surface of the water was an assortment of Styrofoam flotsam, representing the debris stirred up by the tsunami. The shot didn’t seem very dangerous—at least that’s what Hu believed until he was caught unprepared by a sudden sideways push of prop debris, hard enough to punch the air out of his lungs and leave him gasping for air, involuntarily sucking in a mouthful of water, coughing, and choking desperately as he flailed.

James was one of the safety coordinators. He’d dived into the water, swam under the crapberg, grabbed Hu, and pulled him off to the side of the tank, hanging him on the sloping surface and staying with him until he regained his breath. Neither noticed when the director shouted, “Cut! That’s the best one yet, we’ll use that one! All right, let’s get the camera in the water for the dead body shot—”

The director hadn’t noticed what had happened, but one of the assistant directors had seen, and on James’ direct recommendation, quietly added an additional stunt-fee to Hu’s paycheck. No one said anything to the film’s director—a man notorious for arguing with stunt players about the cost of each gag. He had a bad reputation in the stunt players’ community.

After that, James kept an eye on Hu. In the last shot of the morning, Hu had to pretend to be dead, floating face down in the water while a camera crew in dive gear photographed him from beneath. James had been there to coach the camera crew, showing them how to keep their bubbles out of the shot. And that was when Hu, not knowing James’ name, had jokingly called him the bubble-wrangler.

Later on, at lunch, they sat opposite each other—the group shared a table under a large craft-service tent that dominated the parking lot next to the commissary.

Hu had a smile. James had a grumpy charm—it was enough.

The two began that long careful dance of curiosity that would eventually, though not immediately, lead to James’ little house in Venice Beach. Hu had gotten his nickname—Squeak—from the sound his running shoes made on James’ tile floor.

It began as a physical thing, but eventually grew into a relationship. Bed-buddies became roommates. Roommates became lovers. And lovers became—

One strange stormy night, while the two of them were lying side-by-side, staring at the ceiling and listening to the rain, the usually taciturn James had said, “What do you think—”

“About what?”

“About us, about stuff—”

Hu was still learning how to listen to James, but this time he heard more than the words. He heard the intention.

“I think . . .” he began. He rolled onto his side to face James. “I think yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, you big bubble-wrangler. Yes, I will marry you.”

“Oh,” said James. “I was going to ask you if we should get a cat.”

“Huh—?”

James grinned. “But getting married—that’s a good idea too.” He pulled Hu close, and kissed him intensely.

The rest was details.

After a few weeks of dithering about plans and schedules, and how much neither of them wanted the gaudy circus of an actual wedding ceremony, they decided to just go down to City Hall, do the deed, and then fly to Hawaii for a week. Hu’s parents, now together again, were initially more concerned about Hu marrying a Caucasian than a man—but finally decided to show their acceptance by joining them on the island.

The plane tickets were sitting on the kitchen table—and the president’s voice was still droning on—now repeating the original broadcast. Outside, the sirens abruptly fell silent. “I suppose—” said Hu, staring at the travel folder, “I suppose—we can get a refund.”

And then, it hit him.

The grim expression on James’ face said it all.

“Shit! We’re going to lose the house, aren’t we? Jimmy—?”

“We’re gonna lose everything. Everything we can’t carry on our backs.”

*   *   *

 There were only three people in the world who had ever called James Liddle “Jimmy.”

The first had been his mother, right up until the day he came out to her. From that moment on, to express her disappointment, he was “James.” The second had been Nate Lem, his arrogant, overweight fraternity brother—he’d called him “Liddle Jimmy” once too often and gotten a bloody nose for it. After that, he didn’t call James anything at all, he left the room whenever James entered.

The third was Hu Son. When he said “Jimmy” it was either affectionate—or important.

James said, “They don’t know how big it’s going to be, but we’ve only got three hours to get out of here.” He took a breath, his mind racing. “Let’s not panic. Let’s take a moment and think. It’s all about the prep. We gotta get all our cash, all our IDs, all our cards. Um, I have a go-bag, you’ll have to pack one. We’ll need bottled water and protein bars and—and whatever else is important. Tablets, laptops. All our legal paperwork, especially the insurance stuff—”

Hu Son stood frozen for a moment, his heart racing. “You’re serious—oh my god, you are. Oh, god, Jimmy—”

James grabbed him, held him close. “It’s okay, it’s okay—we’re going to be okay. Let’s just take it one step at a time. First step, think—what’s important? What are we going to need? What can we leave behind? What do we absolutely need—?”

Hu said, “Um—I don’t know. Um—” He looked around the kitchen, mentally sorting through everything, his favorite mug, the pictures on the wall, the beautifully sculpted merman figurine they’d bought on a trip to New Orleans. None of that really mattered. He realized he was naked. He headed toward the room they had christened as “the badroom”—the place where it was good to be bad.

“Um, clothes. I’ll grab clothes—”

“Not the big suitcase,” James called after him. The one they had packed last night for Hawaii. “Only what can fit in the carry-on. Jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, underwear, socks—”

Hu was already pulling things out of drawers. “Toothbrushes, deodorant, first-aid kit—”

“Right, good.” James realized he was still holding a mug of hot tea. He took one last swallow, poured the rest into the sink, and opened the dishwasher to put the mug on the rack. It didn’t matter now, did it? But he put the mug on the rack anyway.

“Okay, Jimmy-boy,” he said, talking aloud to himself. “What else? The camera, for sure. Eight thousand dollars for an underwater camera rig—I’m not leaving that behind. And the memory cards and batteries. Oh—” He turned to the shelf, grabbed a nearly full box of Ziploc plastic bags and followed Hu into the badroom. “Here. Triple bag everything that isn’t waterproof.”

“You think—?”

“I think we’re going to plan for the worst, hope for the best, and prepare for anything. We’ll stuff it into dry bags at the office.” While Hu pulled on shorts and shirt, James continued sorting through drawers, throwing stuff onto the bed. “Fuck—”

“What?”

“The motorcycle is in the shop—”

“No prob. We’ll take the van—”

James had gone to the nightstand. He grabbed a large folding knife from the bottom drawer, and the travel-safe, then the travel bag from the closet shelf. He shook his head. “Bad idea.”

“Huh?” Hu stopped, shirt halfway down over his head. His voice came muffled.

“Squeak, you didn’t grow up in this city.”

“Yes, I did—”

“Not as a driver. We are not gonna be traffic today—”

Hu finished pulling his shirt down. “Then, how—?”

“My SCUBA gear is at the office. I can’t leave that behind—” James tossed the travel-safe into the carry-on. He shoved the knife into the pocket of his jeans. “I don’t know how bad it’s going to be, but I’m thinking there’s gonna be a big need for divers after this thing hits. I don’t know, but I’ll need to be prepared. We can bike to the office, grab whatever gear, and from there, we can head inland. Are you ready—?”

“Half a minute—” Hu stopped, looked around. “Last minute check—”

“I don’t want to scare you, but we need to get moving.”

Hu debated with himself, finally lost the argument, grabbed his running shoes and shoved them into the carry-on. “I paid too much for these shoes. They’re coming.” He stopped, looked uncertainly to James. “You think it’s gonna be that bad—”

James looked grim. “You know all those safety courses I had to take, the fire and rescue courses, the Red Cross courses, lifeguard, all the paramedic stuff?”

“Yeah. You did that for the licenses, so you’d be more valuable to the studios—”

“It was part of the job. Stunt safety. Water safety. Everything.” He gave the badroom one last check of his own, still talking. “We had to learn about disasters, all kinds, and prepping for survival too. That’s why I keep a go-bag under the bed, and why I’m always nagging you to keep one too.” He stopped, he took a breath. “I got to see the pictures from the Christmas Tsunami and Fukushima as well, the ones they didn’t show on TV. I never told you—but it was . . . ugly. So we are walking out of here right now and we are heading for the highest ground we can get to the fastest way we can. Is that it? You got everything?” James moved to close the carry-on—

Hu stopped him long enough to toss in two more items, a fist-sized bronze Buddha that he grabbed from the top of the dresser, a wooden cross with a naked Jesus pulled from the wall—and one more, a small resin replica of Mickey Mouse in red robe and blue sorcerer’s hat. “Gotta take the household gods, Bubble. Bad luck to leave ’em.”

The television was no longer replaying the president. Now, the Mayor of Los Angeles, backed up by a phalanx of city councilmen and police, and confronted by a forest of microphones, stood behind a podium, trying to look calm as he laid out the first attempts at emergency evacuation plans. His voice was shaking.

James and Hu stopped long enough to listen, long enough to realize that whatever the mayor was saying, none of it was going to help them. “Wait,” asked James, “Have you eaten? Grab those boxes of protein bars. Eat two of them now. And the water bottles, drink one now. Don’t scarf, don’t guzzle, bring it along. Come on, let’s go.”

They almost made it to the door, James with the knapsack holding his expensive new underwater camera, and his go-bag in his left hand—Hu with a knapsack holding water and travel-rations, his carry-on in his right hand.

Hu stopped abruptly. “No! Wait!”

“Now what?”

Hu dropped the carry-on, ran back to the badroom, came out a moment later, carrying a small black box. “I almost forgot the rings! The wedding rings!” He held the jewelry box high for James to see, then shoved it into his pocket. “Hell or high water, we’re getting married.”

“Probably high water, but yeah. Hell or high water.”

“Promise?”

“Promise. Now let’s go—”

*   *   *

James pulled the plastic tarp off the bikes and unlocked them. Despite the high wooden fence around the tiny yard, he still didn’t trust the neighborhood’s population of permanent transients.

“I’m gonna miss this place,” Hu said.

James didn’t answer. He just shook his head and led them out to the bike path. They took a moment to pull on their helmets and double-check the bungee cords around their bags, holding them firmly to the racks on the back of the bikes.

“You ready?”

“No. But let’s go anyway.”

It wasn’t a long ride to the office. The beachfront had gone curiously empty—few of the stores were open, several looked abandoned. There were still people here but not the usual slurry of ambling shoppers and tourists. They saw a few speed skaters with backpacks, several people puffing and pulling oversized wheeled luggage, a scramble of surfers running for their van, and more bicyclists than usual. Most had backpacks and other luggage strapped to their bikes and handlebars. But everyone was moving with purpose. Most were walking fast, trotting, a few were even running. It wasn’t a panic—not yet, but the clock was running.

James’ company, their company now—Liddle Things—was set in a small white building, three blocks up from the beach. James didn’t rent to casual tourists, too much risk, so there was little need to be on the beachfront where rents were noticeably higher. He unlocked the heavy front door; they wheeled their bikes inside and locked the door behind them. James went behind the desk and unlocked the back room where he kept the tanks and masks, the diving rigs, tool belts, and assorted other paraphernalia.

“Shit!” he said, looking around, taking stock, realizing how little he could save. He blew out his cheeks. “We’re gonna lose it all, Squeak. More than fifty thousand dollars invested in this stuff—all gone.”

Hu wasn’t sure if he should say anything. He recognized the mood—the same growling darkness that always came over James when dealing with money, especially a shortage of it. “The insurance—?”

“Won’t cover the half of it—” James shook his head. “No—there’s just no way to save it, no fucking way.” He sighed in resignation. “All right, let’s get the bike trailers. You take the new one, it’s lighter. You attach, I’ll do triage.” He began pulling things off the wall and out of lockers.

Hu knew the drill. The bike trailers were convenient ways for cyclists to carry surfboards, SCUBA gear, camping gear, or even a few bags of groceries. They attached easily. He and James used them a lot, for almost any trip less than three miles. Hu didn’t mind driving, he could listen to his music, but James hated getting behind the wheel, because he found urban traffic frustrating—the poor behavior of other drivers made even the shortest outing feel like a death-defying exercise.

James talked as he worked, annotating every decision with a justification. “I’m gonna want my wet suit and my new dive computer—that thing cost fifteen hundred dollars. It does everything but make coffee, and I still haven’t had a chance to use it. I’m gonna need it if there’s rescue work. You grab those spare tanks and put them on your trailer. And the camping bag. I’m afraid we’re gonna need it. I’ll take the main tanks and the portable compressor. I might have to wear the rig. Hmm, harness, backplate, maybe I should wear a couple of tanks, too? What else? A pro-grade mask—the new one with the dual lamps, fins, tool belt—I can hang the belt on the handlebars, anything that isn’t waterproof goes into the dry bags, we can put those in our knapsacks, everything else in the travel case, that’ll go on the trailer. Oh, and grab those new headlamps too—”

Hu laughed. “We’re gonna look like a couple of underwater bag ladies—and you with the SCUBA gear on your back—”

“Not gonna leave it—”

“Jimmy—? Isn’t it all too much to carry? All this weight?”

“If it is, then we’ve both wasted a fortune at the gym. And all that damn healthy eating.” James paused, got serious. “Squeak, this is my career. Just like your new expensive laptop. I need this.”

“You don’t have to convince me, Bubble. Give me whatever you need me to carry. We’ll do it.”

They finished quickly. Less than fifteen minutes.

“Is that it?”

“It’s gonna have to be.” James looked to his partner, his tone abruptly thoughtful. “We’ll take the bikeway—that’ll be the fastest. The only traffic will be other cyclists. But only to Twenty-sixth Street, or Bundy if we can, then we’ll turn north. I think if we can get to Sunset, we can go up one of the canyons to Mulholland, maybe take it to Topanga, get down into the valley that way—”

“And from there?”

“I dunno. Who do we know in the valley with a guesthouse? Or a backyard big enough for the tent?”

“Whatsisname—that writer who’s always calling you?”

“Mr. Source Material? Maybe. What about your cousin?”

“Maybe. If you’re willing to put up with my uncle—”

“Yeah, there’s that.”

“Maybe if we can get to Pasadena, there’s Chris and Mark—”

“Melinda has a guest house—”

“So does—never mind. We have options. First thing, let’s get out of here.” James pointed to the bikes. “Okay, safety check on the bikes. Is everything secure?”

Three minutes to double-check all the tie-downs and bungee cords, and they were ready to leave, but at the door, they paused. James put his hand on Hu’s arm. “Okay, Squeak, we’ve got two and a half hours. We can do this. Ten miles an hour, easy-peasy. We could get all the way to Union Station if we had to. All we have to do is pace ourselves. The idiots are going to ride like crazy and exhaust themselves before they even get to the 405. Just keep thinking of Mike Sloan’s teddy bear—”

“Huh?”

“Don’t you remember? Sloan’s teddy wins the race—”

“Oof. Remind me again why I agreed to marry you?”

“Because I’m the daddy, that’s why.” James grinned.

“Except when it’s my turn.”

They pushed the bikes outside, first Hu, then James behind him. Hu started to plug in his headphones, but James stopped him. “You don’t want to do that—”

“Shouldn’t we listen to the news—?”

“Aren’t you scared enough already?”

“Oh.” Hu shoved the earphones back into his knapsack, glanced at his wristband, looked west toward the beach. Beyond a lonely palm tree, the horizon looked peaceful and bright. Hard to believe a disaster was rising somewhere beyond. “It’s gonna be hot today,” he said. “Especially inland.”

“Yeah,” James agreed, behind him. “Gonna need the extra water.”

Hu turned back to him. “All right. I’m ready.”

With the trailer attached, his bike was loaded heavier than he expected. He had to take a running start to catch up to James, but they were on their way, heading east.

It wasn’t far to the bikeway, less than a mile, but they weren’t the only ones who’d had this idea. The bikeway wasn’t crowded, not at first, but the farther they rode, the more cyclists joined them—a steady stream of riders pedaling inland with a grim determination. Every few minutes, a light-rail train passed them, howling east on elevated tracks that paralleled the bikeway. Despite himself, Hu looked up—the railcars were already crowded. James had guessed right.

“Sloan’s teddy,” called James. “Just like one of your marathons.”

“Ha ha,” said Hu. He focused on his pace, using the same steady counting exercise he used when he ran in the morning. Occasionally, other cyclists passed them at a furious pace, almost panicky. Not wise—but their choice.

Two miles in, and the bikeway was filled. Most of the traffic was other cyclists in professional gear, helmets and backpacks, but sometimes just ordinary people on bicycles—sometimes whole families pedaling in a group. Most were wearing knapsacks, or had cases strapped to the backs of their bikes or hanging from their handlebars. A few, like James and Hu, had well-loaded bike trailers.

Occasionally people passed them, a few speed-skaters, and motorized skateboards as well. Once a couple of assholes on motorcycles came roaring past. Hu stood up on his pedals to look ahead. If the bikeway kept filling up, kept getting more and more crowded, those motorcyclists weren’t going to have much of an advantage.

By the time they reached Twenty-sixth Street, traffic on the bikeway had slowed to a sluggish crawl—and east of the avenue, there were so many cyclists ahead of them riding was impossible. People had to dismount and walk their bikes. A few groaned in annoyance, a couple others shouted angrily, some muttered to themselves, but most just kept pushing along. Hu and James dismounted and walked their loaded bikes side-by-side.

More frustrated riders piled up behind them, but no fights had broken out. There was still plenty of time. Most people were helping each other. One woman was holding another’s bike while the first one changed her baby’s diaper. Elsewhere, a professional-looking rider had stopped to patch a flat tire for a crying teenage girl. Another was helping an uncertain middle-aged man put a loose chain back on his bicycle’s gears.

It wasn’t a panic, not yet. It was still an exodus. Not disorderly, but it wasn’t moving fast enough. At this pace . . . James looked to Hu, shook his head, leaned over and whispered, “Time for an alternate route.”

It took them nearly ten minutes to work their way to the next opportunity to exit the bikeway, Cloverfield Avenue. They weren’t the only ones abandoning the narrow route. Some of the cyclists were turning south, most were turning north.

James and Hu went north. Just on the other side of Colorado Boulevard, there was a good-sized parking lot. The lot was already emptying of cars, the last few people driving away frantically. James pointed, and Hu followed.

They pulled themselves out of the steady stream of people remounting their bikes. Hu pulled out the first water bottle, took two swallows and passed it to James, who did the same, then passed it back. A familiar ritual. Having done that, they both pulled out their phones. Hu checked the Weather Channel—the temperature was already above eighty and still rising. Okay, not unexpected.

James went to Google Maps, then he tapped for Waze. Both were bad news. Red lines showing heavy traffic everywhere, some routes already painted with stretches of black. Absolute gridlock was beginning. But at least the bikes were moving here—in the bike lanes and on the sidewalks, and even between the long rows of cars. The automobile lanes were barely inching forward.

“It’s crowding up faster than I expected. Apparently people are taking this thing seriously. All right, we’ll head north here—” James started to push his bike forward again.

Hu said, “Wait.”

“What?”

“I’ve got a text.”

“Forget it—”

“It’s from Karen—” A series of messages rolled up the screen. Hu looked to James. “She’s at work. She needs someone to pick up Pearl.”

“Can’t she do it?”

“She’s doing triage in the E.R. She couldn’t get out, even if she wanted to. The streets there are gridlocked.”

“Pearl can’t get a ride?”

“The neighbor who promised left without her.” Hu read the next text. “What an asshole. Apparently, her cats were more important.”

“There’s no one else?”

Hu kept scrolling through Karen’s frantic notes, his expression darkening. “Doesn’t look like it. Karen says it’s desperate. Pearl is trapped. She can’t get an Uber or a Lyft, Ride-Share is down, Access isn’t picking up. The Fire Department is moving all their equipment eastward. She tried calling for an ambulance, but—” Hu lowered his phone. “James, we can’t leave her there. We gotta get her.”

James made a raspberry of disgust. “Fuck. The problem is . . . that damn wheelchair.”

“Can we pull her—?”

“I’m thinking—” A heartbeat. “The wheelchair is light enough—it’s Pearl. She’s not exactly a spring potato. Fuck.”

“James—”

“I know, I know—” He puffed his cheeks, blew out his breath, exasperated. “Yeah, we have to try. Uh . . . all right, lemme think.” He went to scratch his head, fingers fumbling across his helmet instead. “Fastest way there—”

James made a decision. “Okay. Forget Sunset. Forget the mountains. We’ll go up to Santa Monica, it’s the next one after Broadway. Then . . .” His voice tailed off as he plotted a route. He turned to Hu. “It’s a long slog. If Pearl can get herself down to the street, we’ll figure something out. We might have to lose one of the trailers, I dunno, I’ll do the math in my head while we ride.”

“Can we make it in time?”

James looked at his watch. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Can we get her to high ground? Can we get us to high ground—?”

“Straight north up Fairfax would take us to Laurel Canyon. Might be high enough. I don’t know. That’s not a great route, but . . . fuck, I don’t know.” James shook his head. “Worst comes to worst, I don’t know, we might be far enough inland. Even a ten-story building might be tall enough. Maybe. I don’t know. This is fucked. Let’s just do it. Come on, we’ve been through worse—”

“No we haven’t,” said Hu. “This is the worst.” But he was already tapping a message into his phone. “We’re on our way.” He sent it to both Karen and Pearl, shoved his phone back into his pocket and grabbed his handlebars. “Okay, let’s go.”

*   *   *

James and Hu pedaled east on Santa Monica Boulevard, weaving their way through a slow-moving mass of cars and people. But at least it was moving. Both sides of the avenue were headed inland. There was no westbound traffic. It helped—a little.

It was a business district here, but none of the stores were open. There were a few broken windows, but not many. People were determinedly walking east, most of them turning north at suitable intersections. Some of the cyclists were walking their bikes because there wasn’t enough room to ride. James and Hu had dismounted as well and were now walking their bikes side-by-side.

The exodus was serious now. Even the motorcyclists were having trouble maneuvering through the impatient lines of automobiles. It was turning into a crush. The inevitable speed-skaters darted everywhere, sometimes nearly colliding with unwary pedestrians. Occasionally, they saw an ambulatory bundle of rags doggedly pushing an overloaded shopping cart. Even the homeless were leaving. And once a pair of hipsters rode by on hoverboards.

A woman behind them started complaining loudly—making pointed remarks about their overloaded bikes and bike trailers. James muttered a curse under his breath, but shook his head and kept pushing forward. Hu looked over to him. “Are you okay?”

“I will be. Are you?”

“I’m . . . not complaining,” said Hu. He had a thought. “I’m wondering. Do you think maybe Pearl’s building might be tall enough? If we could get her to the roof—”

James went silent, thinking about it. Finally, “I wouldn’t want to risk it, would you? It’s an old building, wood frame, it might not survive the impact. It’s not just the water, it’s all the crap being pushed by the water. It’ll hit like a horizontal avalanche. And even if the building survives the impact, she could be stuck up there for days before anyone could get to her. And the damn wheelchair is another problem. So, no.”

“It was just a thought. I was worried about the time.”

James looked at his watch. “We’re okay.” He pointed. “We’re almost to the freeway. Once we get to the other side, it should be easier going. Well, could be. We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.” James pushed his bike ahead, effectively ending the conversation.

The 405 freeway divides the L.A. Basin. It separates the western and southern communities from the rest of the megalopolis, as it winds south, vaguely paralleling the coast. Parts are elevated highway, parts are sunken, but all of it is a ten-laned barrier to traffic trying to move to and from the coast. The inadequate and infrequent underpasses and bridges that cross the 405, its on- and off-ramps, are bottlenecks that can back up traffic for blocks even on a good day.

This was not a good day. Gridlock spread outward from every crowded access ramp and crossover. In a few hours the entire length of freeway—from the Sepulveda Pass all the way to the Mexican border—would be gone. But right now it was a major obstacle.

Where Santa Monica Boulevard crossed under the 405, several LAPD motorcycle officers were calmly working to unravel the chaos at the underpass. Surrounded by frantic and desperate drivers, they were doing their best. They were scheduled to withdraw at least twenty minutes before impact—if they could get out. That wasn’t certain anymore.

At the mayor’s desperate orders, both sides of all major surface streets were now mandated for eastbound and northbound vehicles, especially through the underpasses and across the bridges. Both sides of the 110 and the 405 were now handling northbound traffic.

It wasn’t enough.

Police and news helicopters circled overhead. Other choppers, all kinds, were shuttling east and west, their own small contributions to the evacuation. The apocalypse was being televised. Further south, at LAX, every plane that could get off the ground was heading inland, some with passengers sitting in the aisles.

James and Hu came to a stop on the sidewalk just past the Nu-Art theater—an ancient movie house that had survived for more than nine decades. For most of its history, it had been a cinematic sanctuary, unspooling an assortment of independent films, obscure foreign dramas, various cult classics, assorted Hollywood treasures, a variety of otherwise forgotten and questionable efforts, occasional themed festivals, and the inevitable midnight screenings of crowd-pleasers like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and other film-fads of the moment. In a few hours, it would be closed forever.

James pointed ahead—the underpass was gridlocked. The officers had blocked off the northbound on-ramps with their motorcycles, and were now directing traffic to use the southbound off-ramp instead, their only remaining access to a northbound escape, but even that was moving slowly. Too slowly. Even with cars crawling along the shoulders of the freeway, the 405 just couldn’t accept any more traffic.

Los Angeles had not been designed for an evacuation—not on this scale. No city had ever been designed for such a massive torrent of people, an exodus of unprecedented size, a titanic crush of desperate humanity.

And yet, somehow, it moved.

Not fast enough. Not nearly fast enough. But it moved.

Some of these people would survive—if they could just get over the hill into the San Fernando Valley, or even halfway up the Sepulveda Pass. There was time.

Except—

—except for the angry shouting.

Which was why James had stopped.

An old green van, a decrepit-looking Ford Windstar, hastily overloaded, had collided with a silver Lexus, a fairly new model. Both vehicles were in the middle of the road, blocking three separate lanes. A frightened woman sat in the passenger seat of the Lexus.

Two desperate drivers had left their vehicles to confront each other—neither had given way, both had tried to force their way forward, only to demonstrate that specific law of physics that two objects cannot occupy the same space—so now they were screaming at each other in near-incoherent rage.

A crowd of other drivers surrounded them, also screaming, demanding that they move their fender-crunched vehicles out of the way. Snippets of conversation echoed off the underpass walls—

“Get your fucking cars out of the way—”

“Not until I get this asshole’s insurance—”

“It’s your goddamn fault, I want your insurance—”

“There’s no time for that, you assholes—”

“Will both you idiots move your goddamn cars—”

“Daddy, I wanna go home—”

“The police are right there—”

“Good! They can arrest this jerk—”

“Just please move it to the side, so the rest of us can get by—”

“Move it where?! We’re boxed in by the rest of you—”

“I don’t back up for assholes—”

“It’s okay, I do—”

“I’m not moving till he gives me his insurance information—”

“We don’t have time for that, and your piece of shit Ford isn’t worth it anyway. You’re just trying to hold me up, and I won’t stand for it—”

“That’s just the attitude I’d expect from a spoiled brat manbaby—”

“Guys, please! This isn’t helping anyone—”

“Daddy, I gotta pee—”

“If you won’t move it, I will—”

“Touch my car and you’ll regret it—”

“Why don’t the police do something—”

“Okay, enough is enough. You’re gonna move this shit outta the way now—”

That last was a burly member of the sasquatch family—red-faced, longhaired, scruffy-bearded, flannel shirt, and the kind of expression that usually stopped all conversation.

“You gonna make me—?”

“Officer, over here! Please!” That was a woman shouting.

Two of the officers were busy trying to stop impatient drivers from backing up onto the southbound on-ramp, intending to join the northbound exodus that way. Two more were struggling to keep the evacuation orderly—one had to dodge sideways as an impatient driver forced his way around the sluggish line of cars ahead of him. They had more immediate priorities than the argument in the underpass. But the backup of cars was growing, and so was the angry crowd.

From his position at the ramp, one of the officers waved furiously at the drivers of the two vehicles, urging them to get back into their vehicles and move, but the two men were too angry, each so focused on winning this argument they couldn’t see past their own rage. It looked like violence was inevitable.

“Can we get past that?” asked Hu.

“I don’t know,” said James. “I’m wondering if we should try to go around it.” He pulled out his phone to study the map again. Where was the next closest underpass? Half a block north. Ohio Avenue.

The immediate problem would be just getting across the street. Santa Monica Boulevard was gridlocked. The closest cross street was Sawtelle, just on the other side of the Nu-Art theatre. Maybe they could thread their way around the stalled cars—

A sudden shift in sound, a scream of incoherent rage. Both James and Hu whirled to see—

Sasquatch was now waving an aluminum baseball bat. “You gonna move it—?” This was followed by a well-aimed blow. The right-front headlight of the Lexus shattered in the impact. “You gonna move it now—?”

“What the fuck are you doing—?”

“Giving you a reason to move it—”

“Fuck you! You’re gonna pay for that—”

“Let’s make it two—” Another swing of the bat, it bounced off the left headlight. A second swing shattered it. “And three—” The windshield shattered next. The woman inside flinched and tried to scramble across the seat.

“Stop it, goddammit! Stop it!”

“Move it and I will!”

The driver of the Lexus scrambled into the car, but instead of starting the engine, he came out waving a—

“Gun! He’s got a gun—!” The crowd scattered. The panic rippled outward. At its spreading edges, people ran or ducked, hiding behind the most convenient cars.

And just as quickly, three of the police positioned themselves, flattened across the hoods of several stalled vehicles, guns drawn, and pointed, held steady in both hands, red laser dots wavering on the Lexus driver. The lead officer shouted, his voice electrically amplified—“Drop it! Drop the gun! Now!”

Confused, the Lexus driver turned, staring from one officer to the next. “But he . . . he smashed my car.” He waved the gun around, as if to point it, but Sasquatch had conveniently disappeared.

“Drop the fucking gun! Now, goddammit!” Not exactly standard LAPD procedure, but the pressures of the situation were getting out of hand.

“I just want to get out of here!” the Lexus driver wailed.

“Drop the gun and move your car!”

“No, no, no!” The man insisted. “I didn’t do anything! He hit me! He has to move!” Sensing that he was blocked in, he turned around and around, pointing the gun from one driver to the next. “Everybody get out of my way! Let me out of here—” He looked desperate, he was shredding into incoherency—

“Last warning! Drop the gun. Drop it. Now.”

“Please! Just let me out of here—”

“Oh fuck,” said James, quietly. “They’re gonna shoot him.”

Hu put his hand on James’ shoulder and pushed. The two of them flattened to the sidewalk together, their bikes falling beside them.

Three quick gunshots, followed by a beat of silence—and then the screaming started. “Oh my god, my god!” And: “You didn’t have to do that—!” Followed by orders from the cops. “You, move that Lexus. Move it now! You, back up! You, follow him!”

But there was no organization. There were too many voices. There was too much screaming, and too many people pulling in too many directions at once—

And a couple more gunshots, coming from another direction—

James half rose up to look, then quickly lowered himself back to the sidewalk. Once, a long time ago, he’d seen a riot start. It was ugly.

This was worse.

James looked to Hu. “Let’s go back.”

Tentatively, they levered themselves back to their feet, both a little shaken. Hu touched James’ arm and pointed. The building behind them had a fresh hole in one of its windows.

James smiled weakly, nodded, pointed west.

Hu hesitated. “Shouldn’t we see if anyone needs help?”

“Pearl needs us more. Let’s get out of here.”

Hu hesitated, uncertain.

James touched his elbow and said quietly, “Triage.”

Hu didn’t like the thought. But James was right. He followed.

Somehow, despite the narrow sidewalk, despite the people around them, they got their bikes turned around and headed a half block west to Sawtelle.

They weren’t the only ones. Drivers who had gotten out of their cars to see what the blockage was at the underpass were now climbing back into their vehicles and turning north onto Sawtelle. James and Hu threaded their way across the intersection and remounted. There was just enough room on the sidewalk to pedal north.

It wasn’t far to Ohio Avenue, a block and a half. But when they reached the intersection and looked right, they came to a stop, both at the same time.

This underpass was blocked even worse. It was narrower and too many cars were trying to get through it. The avenue was backed up with cars arriving from the west, but adding to the gridlock, traffic from Sawtelle was also trying to merge into the sluggish flow.

“Can we get through there?” asked Hu.

James considered it. There was a cluster of motorcyclists blocking the sidewalk that went through the underpass. It didn’t look like they were getting by. Something blocking them on the other side, maybe—?

“No,” said James. “Too narrow.” That was the most convenient excuse, but he was still thinking about the violence they’d just escaped. This was another potential disaster—another riot looking for a place to happen. He pointed north instead. “Let’s see if we can get across. We’ll take Wilshire.” There weren’t any other options.

They pushed their bikes forward. Most of the going was single-file, but there was still room to make it through. Despite their urgency, most of the drivers here were leaving almost enough space for the two cyclists to navigate carefully across the intersection. Their bike trailers bumped a few fenders where they had to push between the lanes, but aside from one red-faced future stroke victim who shouted at them for blocking his nonexistent way forward, most drivers pretended to ignore them.

And then they were on Sawtelle again, pedaling into the Veterans Administration Healthcare Center. Where Sawtelle dead-ended inside the campus, before a cluster of shining white buildings, there was a concrete path cutting directly north, and it was wide enough for them to pedal. They weren’t the only cyclists with this idea; a few others raced past them. But James and Hu stopped to walk their bikes because of the foot traffic—the old men in bathrobes and pajamas and shapeless sagging trousers.

In the rising heat of the July day, these ancient men trudged steadily north. They were clusters of fragile age, old but determined. Most of them were using canes or struggling with walkers, a few pushed others in wheelchairs, a few were coming with their IV stands, but all of them were heading slowly and deliberately toward Wilshire. They smelled of old age and soap.

These were the leftovers, the forgotten warriors, the heroes of yesterday—the abandoned ones, abandoned one more time. No one had remembered they were here. There was no evacuation plan for them. The buses had never arrived, they’d been commandeered for the schoolchildren and for anyone else who could scramble aboard.

Maybe, when they reached the boulevard, someone would give them a ride. Or maybe they would just end up as a few more bodies in the long line of hopeful old men gathering along the side of the road, more zombies for the frightened drivers to ignore.

James and Hu passed them as quickly as they could—they tried hard not to meet their eyes, tried hard not to see their frail bodies and watery expressions. But one of the men stopped James with an outstretched hand. “You go. You go on, get out of here. Go and live. Find someone to love and live a glorious life.” Another added, “But tell them about us. Tell them to remember. Please—” And a third, “Tell them how we were forgotten, betrayed, abandoned—” And a fourth, “And tell them to go fuck themselves too—”

Both James and Hu nodded and promised. “We will, we will.”

They nodded and said yes to everything, they shook the trembling hands of those who reached out to them—and then they pushed on, a hard lump in their throats. They wanted to do more, but what could they do?

And then one of the old men called, “Jimmy, is that you?” Hearing his name, James stopped. Force of habit. He turned and looked.

A frail specter, dragging an IV stand, came wobbling, hobbling across the grass. “Jimmy, it’s Grampa.”

No, it wasn’t. All of James’ grandparents had passed a decade earlier. But still, he was startled enough to stop and stare.

Another old soldier came shuffling up. “It’s all right, pay him no mind. He’s—he doesn’t know who anyone is anymore.”

But Grampa had grabbed Jimmy’s arm. “I knew you’d come,” he said. “I told them, I told them you would come to see me—”

The other man shook his head. “Jimmy died. A long time ago. But he doesn’t believe it. Or he forgets.”

James said, “Hu, hold my bike.” He dismounted, put his arms around the self-appointed Grampa. “I love you, Grampa. I’m sorry I waited so long to come and see you. I missed you so much. I have to go now. Your friends will take care of you. But I have to go. They need me at the . . . at the station, okay?”

The old man didn’t want to let go. His frail hands trembled as he tried to hang onto his long-lost grandson, but Jimmy pulled away anyway, and finally Grampa said, “Okay, Jimmy. Okay. You be a good boy now. You tell your ma you saw me, okay?”

“Okay, Grampa.” Jimmy gave the old man a quick hug, then pulled away just as quickly. He took hold of his bike again—

James mounted and they pedaled on.

“That was . . . that was a good thing you did.”

“Triage,” said James. “Goddammit.”

Hu didn’t answer.

They traveled past the line of old men, castoffs in a younger world, all of them struggling in the rising heat. As they turned right to go up the ramp to Wilshire Boulevard, even more old and frail men were gathering in a crowd. Some of them were weeping. Others were stepping into the traffic lanes, knocking on the windows of slow-moving vehicles. Others stood silently on the sidewalk, sunken in despair, gaunt and resigned in the heat of the day. Two looked like they were unconscious on the sidewalk. Here and there, car doors were opened for them—but not enough.

It was a nightmare.

They pushed past. Most of the old men ignored them. They were just two more bodies in the passing parade of people who couldn’t or wouldn’t help them.

A couple of the old men were shouting obscenities—mostly at the cars, but a few directed their streams of abuse at James and Hu. One hollered at Hu, “That’s right, you dirty Jap, run away, run away—or we’ll get you again like we did at Pearl Harbor—”

“I’m Chinese,” said Hu, but the old man didn’t care, or didn’t hear. Hu followed James; they pushed on.

There were officers working the underpass here too, but without the same frustration and confusion that they had seen a mile further south at Santa Monica Boulevard. The officers here were also directing traffic up onto the southbound lanes of the 405, pointing cars up the off-ramp, shouting and waving them forward, even demanding they use that side of the highway as an additional northbound escape. Some drivers looked reluctant, this felt wrong, but they followed the officers’ directions and headed up the off-ramp anyway

The traffic inched along slowly, jerking spasmodically, filling every spare foot of space—but it moved—only a little at a time, but it moved with a single-minded purpose. If these vehicles could get far enough north, far enough up the Sepulveda Pass, these drivers would likely survive.

James and Hu lowered their heads and pushed themselves forward as quickly as they could. They blinded themselves to the naked desperation and pushed east, somehow getting through the traffic at the ramps and into the cooling shadow of the underpass. They didn’t linger, the place smelled of fumes. Finally, they were out to the other side and across Sepulveda. They threaded their way through the cars on this side.

When they came to the giant Federal building on the south side of the boulevard, a massive white monolith, Hu looked to James, an unspoken question in his glance. They looked to the crowds gathering at the structure, surrounding its entrances, including another legion of old men. James shook his head, an unspoken reply. Bad idea. Not gonna be enough room for everyone . . . and still too close to the shoreline.

They pushed on.

A long row of tall buildings lay ahead of them, not quite skyscrapers in the modern sense, but tall enough to be imposing—tall enough to look like safety. Already, the foot traffic was getting thick—businessmen, residents, students from the UCLA campus a mile north—the buildings were filling up. The top floors would be crowded.

When James and Hu finally got to the intersection of Westwood and Wilshire Boulevards, they hit a new obstacle—a huge gaping hole in the ground that was the excavation for the Westwood terminus of the Purple Line, the latest extension to the Los Angeles subway system.

If it had been completed, if the tracks had been laid and energized, the city could have evacuated another half-million people. But today, it was a gaping promise. Unfinished. Empty. And shortly to be flooded, inundated, and scraped away by a bulldozer of debris—

James stopped himself.

Don’t go there. Just don’t.

He checked Google Maps, nodded, pointed to the right. “We’ll take the side streets.”

A block south, along Wellworth Avenue, they could easily pedal east again. It was a residential area, mostly one- or two-story houses. Traffic was thick here, but not impossible—just a steady stream of cars, pushing slowly east. James and Hu kept to the sidewalks; there weren’t many other riders here, and they made the best progress since leaving Venice.

James glanced at his watch. They were behind schedule, but there was still time. They were going to make it.

If there were no more shootings.

 

Read the exciting conclusion in this month's issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2018. Bubble and Squeak by David Gerrold & Ctein

Website design and development by Americaneagle.com, Inc.

Close this window
Close this window

Sign up for special offers, information on
upcoming issues and more!


Signup Now No, Thanks