All right, welcome to part two of our game of Exquisite Corpse. Last week, Romanes Eunt Domus got us off to a cracking start.
We’ll put up each chapter as a new post, and aggregate them into a Google doc as we go forward.
NOTE: I’m thinking of giving this story the bland if true-to-genre title of The Numa Legacy. Surely one of you smart people can do better. Give us some suggestions in the comments below.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, St. John Metaxas couldn’t sleep. He stood at one of the picture windows of his penthouse, forty stories above Vine Street, gazing at the lights in the hills. Before he had bought this place, he had lived up there, in the Richard Neutra-designed home he and his wife Amelia had bought. But there were too many memories in that place, too many dreams that would never come true, so he had moved down to where there were supposed to be people and noise and distractions. But he was the first, and so far only, person to occupy a flat in this new building, overlooking Hollywood Boulevard on one side and the Capitol Records building on the other. He could feel the emptiness beneath him as a swimmer feels the distance to the ocean floor, cold, dark, empty.
He pulled on a pair of athletic shorts and an old Amoeba Records t-shirt and paced. He tried not to think about his wife’s last moments, the fear she must have felt as her plane spun into the Bolivian jungle six years before. He put his hands to his eyes to push the images out of his mind. He hissed through clenched teeth to drown out the sounds. Usually, these thoughts came in flashes, like lightning, and then were gone. But tonight, he was finding them impossible to push aside.
It was 3 AM. In twelve hours, he would board an American Airlines 787 bound for London. He would be met at the airport by a driver sent by Amelia’s brother Richard, and he would be brought down to East Sussex, to the old family house and to the new Bradley Institute of Contemporary Art. In his role as architecture critic for the Los Angeles Transcript-Telegram, he would tour and write about the beautiful new building, a once in a lifetime collaboration between Morphosis and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. In his role as widower to the only daughter of Lord Albert Bradley, Earl of Holkchester, he would be a reminder to all present that someone who should have been there wasn’t.
St. John knew it was pointless trying to sleep. On other nights like this, and there had been many, he had found that a couple of hours nursing a coffee and reading at Canter’s on Fairfax would help. He put on his running shoes and jacket, grabbed his phone, his wallet, and his keys, and headed out. The elevator took him to street level in seconds. With the rest of the building unoccupied, and the subterranean parking area in the final stages of construction, the elevator controls had been locked out for every level except the penthouse and the lobby. Only those with override keys, such as building maintenance and security, police, and fire fighters could access those empty floors. With only a single resident, the property management company had decided, with St. John’s approval, not to keep a concierge at the front desk.
As he pushed the handle on the great glass door that opened onto Vine, St. John felt his phone vibrate in his jacket pocket. It wasn’t a text or an email, it was a call. He didn’t want to lose focus as he left the building, so he ignored it. He had never had a violent incident in the two decades he’d lived in Los Angeles, but it he didn’t want to invite a first time by being distracted. He looked both ways on the empty street. No one. He started to walk toward his temporary parking space in the Capitol Records lot.
He took care to avoid the name plates embedded in the stars in the sidewalk. Old TV actors, a producer whose name he’d heard of but had never looked up, a country singer, they had been immortalized in the sidewalk of this part of Hollywood. It was a quaint reminder of an earlier era.
St. John heard the thrum of a helicopter above him. When he had first arrived as a graduate student at UCLA, he had marveled at the number of helicopters that served the city. Now, living so close to the 101, with its endless crashes and chases, he barely noticed them anymore. But this one seemed to be lower and was coming from a different direction.
His phone buzzed again. Halfway between the building and his car, alone on an empty street, he pulled the phone from his pocket and looked at it. A string of numbers in an unfamiliar order, starting with 33, showed there. He was still looking at his buzzing phone when a streak of light crossed the sky, reflected in the glass screen.
A nanosecond later, his world was lit up in red and orange.
Then the shockwave hit him.
Then the roar of the explosion.
Then the crash of tons of glass and steel showering down from 40 floors up.
St. John Metaxas stood gaping up at the blazing ruin of his home. He didn’t notice the silver Audi pull up next to him. He didn’t know how long the woman in the driver’s seat had been yelling at him in her French-accented English.
It was six minutes later, as the car sped through the intersection of Highland and Beverly, that St. John realized what was happening at all. He was still clutching his phone in his left hand and his key ring in his right.
He looked in shocked wonder at the young woman in the driver’s seat.
“What? What happened,” he asked.
“You’re in danger,” the woman said, hunched forward over the wheel. She stole upward glances every few seconds.
“What? Me? Why?” He felt like he was going to fall backward and sink down into the black water.
“I don’t know. Your name was on a list.”
“What?” he asked.
She looked at him. Pity and fear were there, but so was a touch of exasperation, maybe even a bit of contempt.
“Be quiet and let me drive,” she said.
On the other side of the world, three people watched a secure video feed from a camera mounted in the nose of a helicopter as the top floor of a building in Los Angeles threw flames into the night sky. One nodded approvingly. Then the other two did the same.
OK, over to you Sic_Humor!