IT’S DIFFERENT HERE. LESS FORMALITY. Less routine. Like working remotely. I come and go, and try to make a difference, though like many of my fellow residents, I mostly just hang around and waste time. Sarah doesn’t mind what sort of hours I keep, provided I end up by her side asleep at night. Usually I do. We’ve celebrated three Christmases in LA, each of them gray and rainy. I shouldn’t complain. About the only rain we see is during the Christmas holiday. Otherwise it’s typically sun followed by more sun with occasional bursts of sun.
There’s ample time to tan because the LA crime-fighting scene is a huge departure from New York. While there are plenty of crooks, most are thugs whose aspiring to armed robbery or carjacking. There’s little in the way of super-crime or masked super-criminals. The Los Angeles Super-Hero Syndicate, a team of unionized crime fighters who, even though they’re super-heroes, still have to drive to an office each day, brings most of those villains to justice.
The lack of super-villainy in LA doesn’t bother Sarah. She hasn’t had to mend my costume (or me) in thirteen months. She sleeps easier knowing that I’ll almost certainly be returning home each night with nary a scratch. We live on the LA’s west side. The last super-villain known to frequent the west side was The Beach Comber in the late 1980s. Because we’re not inland, a good portion of my evening is spent getting downtown to where the action is. It’s a hefty eighteen-mile jaunt. I used to fly it, but it got to be too tiresome–my endurance has begun to wane. On especially slow nights I’ll sometimes converse with other LA super-heroes also out on patrol. The non-flying types always ask the same question–what’s it like to fly? When I tell them it takes considerable effort, they always look surprised and disappointed. Everyone seems to think that flying is something that just happens. They watch movies like Superman and think, “Oh, it’s just like walking.” In a way it is, but try walking eighteen miles. It gets to be a bit much. That’s what flying’s like. A mile or two is no problem, but thirty-six miles round trip is a completely different matter.
So these days I take the 10 East, or Pico, or Venice and I drive downtown. It’s cheap enough to get garage parking at night; I keep the wagon parked near the rooftop. Just makes coming and going all that much easier. LA boasts a captivating skyline. Anyone who’s ever driven downtown or along the 110 would be lying if they said otherwise. It can’t compare with New York, but it’s breathtaking nonetheless. I tend to spend most of my time near Olvera Street or Little Tokyo. Some of the downtown architecture–like the Walt Disney Concert Hall–is simply uninviting from a perch perspective. There’s nothing quite like LA’s circular Library Tower. The tallest building west of Chicago, its rooftop is frequented by villain and hero alike. It was from atop this historic landmark that I first caught sight of them thirteen months ago.
Los Angeles was in the midst of June gloom, a time when the skies never seem to clear and the rain never seems to fall. I stood, early evening, on the helipad of the 1,018-foot Tower, eating a mixed-cheese sandwich on rye that Sarah had packed for me. In mid-swallow I felt the building begin to tremble, softly at first, and then violently, which I knew was no minor feat given that it had been built to withstand an 8.3 earthquake. Indeed, it seemed as if an earthquake was erupting. I gazed down, expecting to see the streets and sidewalks splinter before me. Quite the opposite occurred. It wasn’t the ground below that trembled, but the sky above. I stared, disbelieving at first, as the atmosphere began to dismantle itself. The clouds receded into each other, becoming increasingly impacted in the ensuing seconds. Soon there was only sky, but it, too, along with the air, soon dematerialized. The tearing of the upper atmosphere sounded like a thousand-thousand explosions. The sound was becoming unbearable and I pressed my palms against my ears for a brief respite. A shimmering light suddenly appeared from within the center of the parting; I watched as they stepped out from the intense brightness. They descended, then, as the sky began to close and the clouds and air reformed, descending to a height of just over 1,000 feet, slightly above me.
They were largely translucent. I realized that I recognized the couple and was certain that I’d seen them on a Warner Brothers matinee when I was a kid, or perhaps on an old serial like Commando Cody. Regardless of where it had been, they were unmistakably familiar–he wore a 1930s suit that looked custom-tailored for William Powell, while she donned a petticoat that could easily have been designed for Myrna Loy. But it wasn’t Nick and Nora who hovered above me. The air around them was arctic cold, and I felt a chill race across my flesh as he spoke.
“I really missed this town.”
“It’s already forgotten us,” she said, in a voice whose forlornness was eclipsed by its underlying supernatural air.
“Don’t cry,” he replied, in a voice that was equally unearthly. “After tonight, Tinsel Town will remember us for a long time.”
They began to dissipate, becoming mist, and soon vanished into the evening air.
“Only in LA,” I said, in stunned disbelief. It occurred to me I could see my breath–the air around me had dropped to below freezing. I rubbed my gloved hands together for warmth. I couldn’t see where they’d gone, so I followed the trail of cold left in their wake. The path of cold air ended several miles west of downtown, on a crowded sidewalk at Santa Monica and Doheney in West Hollywood where the celestial couple made its dramatic reappearance, descending onto the sidewalk in front of the Troubadour music hall. No one seemed to care. The crowd regarded the mysterious-looking duo as either just another advertising gimmick or a publicity stunt. Those perceptions, however, changed as one by one and in rapid succession both pedestrian and motorist collapsed. Seconds after the couple’s appearance, a black SUV driven by a twenty-something male collided with a second black SUV driven by an older woman, setting off a chain-reaction that effectively blocked the eastbound lanes of Santa Monica Boulevard. Moments later, a similar accident blocked the westbound lanes. None of the drivers were alive to exchange insurance information, and most of the pedestrians who might have witnessed the accidents were, themselves, dying sudden and premature deaths. I arrived just in time to see several member of the Los Angeles Super-Hero Syndicate, who had arrived ahead of me, slump to the ground.
“How’s that?” the ghostly man asked.
“Wonderful. Wonderful,” his female companion replied.
“This is only the beginning,” he said, confidently.
I dropped to within twenty yards of the couple, levitating above them and remaining careful to keep some distance. The cold enveloped me, and if not for my own super-metabolism I’d have likely blacked out.
“That’s quite enough,” I said, speaking with far more confidence than I actually possessed.
The old man turned and slowly gazed up at me. “What are you supposed to be?”
I answered his question with a question. “What are you doing here?”
“Enough talk,” the man insisted, and began to levitate toward me. I dropped back and felt the surrounding air grow chiller. The woman rose alongside her companion.
“Don’t go,” she said. “Please.”
“No offence, but I feel as if it’s in my best interest to keep my distance. Why are you killing innocents?”
“You think this is about killing?” the man answered. “This isn’t about killing.”
“What then?” I asked, as a vague recollection began to form within me. I was certain I’d seen this couple before.
He laughed, as the chill air crept across the back of my neck like a like a dry sable brush over freshly stretched canvas. “It’s about remembrance. About not being forgotten as this town–this world–has forgotten us.”
“I know you,” I said, the memory suddenly returning.
“Do you indeed?”
“Charlie McFee,” I said, recalling a film history class I’d recently taken, “though you were born Charles Macy Feinstein. You worked on Stagecoach to Serenity. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1953.”
“A bit part from a life of bit parts,” he replied derisively.
“Perhaps, but there were plenty of others. Mississippi Prince, The Assassins of King George, A Summer at the Lake.” The spirit smiled faintly.
“What about me?” McFee’s companion asked desperately. “Do you remember me? I was a regular on Studio One and worked alongside Maureen O’Hara and George Nader in–”
“Lady Godiva of Coventry. June Addison, isn’t it?”
“That’s right.” There was an air of excitement beneath the stone-death of her voice. The couple seemed suddenly shaken, as if their reason for being had been yanked out from under their levitating soles. Tears began falling from June Addison’s ghostly eyes.
“We haven’t been forgotten.”
“No,” McFee answered.
“My God,” Addison her said, her face strained as she stared down at the havoc they’d wreaked. “Charlie, what have we done?”
They’d joined hands and began to ascend ever higher, trying to escape the aftermath of their actions. A ghastly fear washed across both their faces. The spirits raced into the night sky, faster and faster, yet it wasn’t the clouds that suddenly parted, but the asphalt and blacktop of Santa Monica Boulevard. The pavement erupted like a flexed hand and I was clipped by a chunk of stone that sent me crashing downward, my fall broken by the steel roof of a commercial moving van.
An intensely bright beam of crimson light shot up from beneath the earth and the couple that had ascended from heaven were pulled violently into its expansion and sucked inward like dust granules before a vacuum, their banshee shrieks echoing in the night. Seconds later the beam retreated back into the earth and the road returned to its original state.
I never learned how the couple had returned from the dead, but whatever pact they’d made it seemed to have been fulfilled, or negated. The cold that they’d brought quickly dissipated. I stared at the bodies lined along the sidewalk of Santa Monica Boulevard, desperately hoping they’d revive–that they were merely unconscious. But this hope was abandoned as the final ambulance departed a few hours later. A few photos of my encounter with the spirits, taken by passersby, emerged on social media, but most critics dismissed as them Photoshop fakery. From nostalgically famous to modern-day infamy in only five minutes. Ah, Hollywood.
– – –
“Going out tonight?” Sarah asked, as I powered off the notebook.
I’d just completed the first draft of the penultimate chapter of a manuscript critiquing the history of 20th-century American cinema.
“Be careful out there.”
“I know. That’s one of the things I love about you.”
We kissed goodbye and I walked out to the car and tossed my duffel bag onto the passenger seat. I gazed up at our home as Sarah shut out the bedroom light. After idling for a few minutes, I switched off the ignition and walked back inside.
“Don’t you have an appointment with danger?” she asked, as I jumped into a pair of pajama bottoms.
“I’m glad, but why not gonna?”
“It’s a long drive to downtown. Anyway, I’m starting to feel like Crisis really isn’t needed in LA.”
“Really. The LA super-team can handle whatever troubles arise. And if I am needed, I can always, you know, suit up.”
I slid between the silk bed sheets and held Sarah’s hand.
“You sure you’re okay?” she asked.
“Pretty good. Anyway, I thought maybe we could talk for a while.”
“Um, okay,” she said, reaching for her glasses. “What’s on your mind?”
“I thought maybe we could talk about adoption.”
We spoke long into the night, envisioning the pros and cons of bringing a child into our lives and into the tumultuous world we inhabited. A few hours later we donned shoes and walked toward the ocean to watch the the sun rose over the Pacific on another clear LA day that held no immediate crisis.
NEXT: …as a Mad Immortal Man