Author: Michael Panush PM
La Cruz looks like an average Southern California small town, but it has some dark secrets - and it has its guardians. They are the supernaturally adept drivers of Donovan Motors, including zombie greaser Roscoe, who stand between La Cruz and chaos with only their wits and some fast hot rods to help them. Read on for monsters, muscle cars, magic and mayhem in this Fifties Fantasy.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Supernatural - Chapters: 25 - Words: 222,754 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 04-01-13 - Published: 07-15-12 - id: 3042058
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Tales from the Road
Hey there, cats and kittens and boys and ghouls - I'm the Deadbeat, the premier horror-themed DJ of La Cruz, California. And you've just been invited to a real happening party in my La Cruz pad. Come on down and join some of the other guests. I promise it'll be a time you won't soon forget. How do you get there? It's simple, cats and kittens - just follow the Main Street down La Cruz. Pass all those diners and stores. That's Squaresville. Then pass Donovan Motors. Some of my friends work there, but I hear they're on the job tonight. What kind of work? Best not to ask. Soon enough, Main Street ends for good and then you're in my neck of the woods. It's a ragged strip of decrepit mansions, right next to the coast. The Pacific crashes below the homes, sounding like teeth that never stop gnashing. Don't fall in. My house is the one right at the end. It's all crumbling towers and old pillars. Some haunted mansion chic. Come up to the porch and knock. Watch out for the Jack-O-Lanterns. Why are they there? Dig it, boys and ghouls - it's always Halloween at the Deadbeat's house.
Knock on the door and wait a little. Pretty soon, I show. You must know me, right? I host La Cruz's premier radio show. Between the terror-tinged hits, I bring the public the news they want to hear. Don't believe it? Hey, that's fine by me. None of the squares do. Take a look at me as I usher you in. I'm wearing a long-sleeved black shirt and black trousers. I'm wearing sunglasses too and a beret at a cocky angle. My face is ageless and free of hair. Come on in, boys and ghouls. The party's just beginning.
Take a walk down to the parlor, where the swinging is just getting started. Don't mind the coffins lining the walls. Sometimes I just want to rest my bones, you dig? The parlor's a little better. The light's not that great, but there's a balcony beyond overlooking the sea. Quite a view, ain't it? Almost worth dying for. But you're not ready to do that just yet, are you? Dig it - let's meet the guests.
Take a look at this cat. You know, the one sporting the costume that looks an octopus is sitting on his head and a big black robe. And I swore that this wasn't a costume party. Don't look now, but he's eyeballing us. He's coming right over. I think he's talking to you.
"Do you wish to know the doom of mankind?" he asks, with a voice like glass being ground.
Better not answer. Let me do the talking. "That a trick question, daddy-o?" Now let's walk past him, check out these three fellows in the back. Looks like they got something to share. You see the fat guy? The one with the gray hair and the gut that makes him look like he swallowed a bowling ball? His name's Morris Schlosser. Everyone calls him Doc Schlock. He makes movies. I bet you can guess what kind. That's right - they're Z-level flicks, promising cheap thrills for a cheap price. Not exactly for your cinematic slobs, but I can't get enough of them. Let's see what he's got to say.
Doc Schlock looks up and nods to me. The gold chain around his neck tinkles. Dig that chest hair. Looks like steel wool. I'll go up and say hello. "Hey, Doc - got any stories from the movie business you feel like sharing?"
You could outshine the moon with his grin. "Do I? Gather round, kiddies, because here's a story that's wilder than even my pictures. It's a little tale of lost love on the tropical shore. I call it...
I. The Babe on the Beach
Now, it's no secret that I make movies on the cheap. I make them fast and I make them fun but I just ain't got the dough to have Lana Turner and Gary Cooper taking starring roles. That means finding no-names. And that, my friends, is an often thankless task. My latest picture is about surfers. The scriptwriter, a blacklisted ex-playwright and dope fiend, jotted it down over a single weekend. Apart from the typos, it was gold. The title was Psycho Surfers from Bloodbath Beach. It'd be about a gang of surfers who find a greater thrill in killing then riding the waves. I figured it would hit big with the teenage crowd, the horror crowd and maybe the paranoid-about-juvenile-delinquents crowd. The only problem was, I needed someone to be the square-jawed surfer hero and his dame. That meant that I needed to hit the beach for an impromptu casting call.
I went to Venice Beach. More freaks and wierdos out there then mosquitoes in a Florida swamp. I figured I'd find some muscle-headed weight-lifting putz to play the hero and a blonde bimbo to play his squeeze. The way it turned out, I got more than I bargained for.
I arrived at the beach in the mid-afternoon, just as the big crowds - and the ocean waves - were rolling in. The tourists were pouring into the swarm of shops that bordered the beach. I weaved through them, already feeling a little sweat trickle down my nose. I walked by the open air gym, where the body builders were strutting the stuff for the adoring crowd. I looked a couple over. They were your blonde, Aryan superman types. Good for goose-stepping, God forbid, but maybe not right for my picture. I needed actors with a little more soul. I left the shops behind and hit the beach.
That's when I saw her. She was coming in from the sea, trailing another group of surfers. They had their boards under their arms and were discussing swells or waves whatever other fakakta garbage surfers talk about it. But behind them was this dame. You know how it is when you see one babe and she just hits you like a bullet between the eyes? Just one look and wham - your brains are on the ground. That was me and this girl. I stood there like a bashful schoolboy seeing his first eye-catching broad. I tried to remember how to breathe.
She was a honey blonde - ain't they always? - with long, sun-warmed legs that seemed to have no stopping. Her hair was long, falling almost to her waist. It shone like the sun on ocean waves. Her face and everything else about her was perfect. She wore a white bikini, pale and strapless. I watched as she moved across the sand, dancing more than walking. I knew right away that she was the one for my picture.
After a few seconds, I straightened up and became a producer first and a chump of a man second. I walked over to her, hearing the sand crunch under my boots. "Hello there, honey," I said, giving her my best smile. "Now, I know this might sound a bit odd - but how'd you like to be in the movies?" That's my best line. You get some out-of-town dame from Nowhere, Arkansas and tell them you're gonna make their Hollywood dreams come true and you'll have them eating out of your palm in no time.
But this babe didn't take the bait. "Movies?" she asked. "Like, for people to watch?"
So she was a dummy? Well, that was no trouble. "Sure," I said. "I'm Morris Schlosser. Folks call me Doc. I'm a producer. Now, everything about my film is above board and you're fee to look it over and see the script before you agree. No funny stuff, I promise." I held out my hand. "You want to hear some more?"
"No funny stuff," she repeated. Then she smiled. "Sure. I'm Fiona."
"Aces - and that's a lovely name." I looked back at the shops and spotted a good seafood restaurant. They made a mean clam chowder. "Tell you what, why don't we head over to that seafood joint and you can have lunch, on me, and I'll tell you about the terms and how long the filming is and things like that. If you don't like it, you can leave and you'll get a free meal out of it." I held out my hand. "What do you say?"
"Sure," she agreed. "No funny stuff."
It was coming together beautifully. So me and the Shikse head over to the seafood place. I order the chowder. She orders fish and chips. The grub comes out in little baskets with checkered cloths and she starts eating. No fries, only the fish. She devours the fish, not even bothering to put on some malt vinegar or ketchup or tartar sauce. In fact, she doesn't so much eat them as swallow them. Just puts them in her mouth, throws her head back and down the fishy goes. Strange - but to each their own, right? No harm in liking fish. She finished her first plate and I ordered her another. She finished that too and I ordered a third.
All the while, I was talking about Psycho Surfers from Blood Beach. I told her the plot - such as it is - and the kind of role I was thinking of for her. I told her the shooting schedule and what she'd have to do. Fiona didn't say a word. She just watched me with her big, glassy black eyes like I was speaking another language. She had a fourth order of fish and chips and then I made my pitch.
"So," I said. "That sounds like something you could do?"
Fiona nodded. "Sure," she said. "I'd get to be inland? And see more people and things?"
Then she paused. Her eyes lowered. "I don't know if my father - and brothers - would approve."
"Let me guess - protective type? Don't worry about it. I'll tell you what. Let me visit your house tonight and I'll explain everything. I can sell the flick as something classy - art house, if you will." I grinned at her. My powers of persuasion were legendary in Hollywood circles. "Trust me, doll. I could talk Ronald Reagan into appearing in a Trumbo-penned picture if I wanted to. Just give me a chance to schmooze with your folks and it'll all be handled. Now where do they live?"
She paused again. "Further down the beach," she said. "By the sea." She pointed with a thin finger, down the beach. I didn't know there were any houses there, but some rich types had probably squared it with the city and gotten a few exclusive places built.
My head bobbed. "A beachside residence? Swanky stuff." I held out my hand again and she clasped it. "All right, Fiona. I'll swing by there around sundown. I've got a few other production stuff needs looking into that'll keep me busy for the rest of the day. So I'll see you then, okay?"
She stood up. "Sure," she said. Then Fiona turned away and lost herself in the crowd, like a pebble dropped in the waves. My eyes followed her all on their own. So did the eyes of every man on that beach. I wiped spilled chowder off my chin and paid for the lunch. Fiona put a little dent in my wallet, but it was a small price to pay for a looker like that in Psycho Surfers.
I was busy the rest of the day getting everything ready for the picture. I went back to the muscle-heads and found the perfect square-jawed goy for my leading man. He was a fool for reefer and I promised him that he'd get all the Mary Jane he could smoke if he starred on his picture. I also promised to bribe his parole officer. The costs of Psycho Surfers were adding up, but it didn't matter much. After all, I could always cut costs during filming. Speaking of funding, I had to visit my investors next and promise them that their money was being looked after. After a quick stop at my script-writer's place to foil his suicide attempt and then a dinner-to-go at Tail-of-The-Pup, the day was pretty much done. All I had to do was visit Fiona's father and convince him to let his little girl star in my movie.
The beach was almost empty now. The sun had gone down and only a few surfers and tourists were making their way inland from the shore. I walked along the beach in the direction that Fiona had pointed. The water crashed behind me, rolling in and out with a calming regularity. The sun was just slipping over the horizon, dying everything brilliant shades of red, purple and gold. It was like a fire was in the sea, burning its way to the coast. I trudged along and soon the beach began to get thinner and rockier. There was no sign of Fiona's house - or any other houses, come to think of it.
But I kept walking. Soon I was stepping over jagged rocks and weaving around tide pools. I cursed myself, figuring that I made a wrong turn. I didn't have a good sense of direction. Worst of all, I hadn't gotten a phone number for Fiona. If I couldn't find her now. She'd swam away from me for good. I felt like the schmuck I was. Seawater was even staining my loafers. Then I heard Fiona's voice and I perked up. I stared down the coast.
There she was, poised on a jagged rock overlooking the sea. Sea lions were all around here. They were the big fat sea lions, the kinds that looked like sleek overstuffed sausages with twinkling eyes and pointed noses. They were lounging about, lying all over each over. There was no house around, but there was Fiona. And she wasn't even wearing her bathing suit. She was completely naked and that alone made the journey worthwhile. I stared up at her and then she hopped down and landed amongst the sea lions. None of them honked or hooted at her.
She headed my way. "Honey," I said. "Fiona - this is where you live?"
"Sure," Fiona agreed. She turned back to the sea lions. "This is the guy I told you about," she explained. "He wants to talk to you."
I thought she was bughouse - a regular nuts-o straight from the padded cell. But then the sea lions started to stand. They swiveled upright, their pointed noses swinging around to face me like gun barrels. They started to shift and change and I knew they were more than sea lions. Furry sets of finned legs jutted out from their bottoms. Their front fins reached out and grew. They were barking too, emitting ferocious snarls as their heads swayed back and forth and their teeth barred. The sea lions started heading my way. Some of them reached down. The nearest sea lion, a hulking brown gorilla, grabbed a heavy club made of driftwood and jagged stone from a tide pool. He held it high, looking like he wanted to split my skull with it.
Fiona smiled as they surrounded me. "Okay," she said. "Convince them."
And maybe I could have - if I spoke a word of sea lion. Instead, all I could do was duck. The club rushed past my head and nearly took it off. I stepped back, cursing myself, and stumbled. I fell and hit the jagged rocks hard. I splashed into a tide pool. The ocean was rushing in again and I could hear the crash. I tasted salt in my mouth. The sea lion towered over me, raising his club again. Then Fiona started emitting more barks, shaking her hands and waving her neck. The sea lion paused.
"That's right, honey!" I said. "You tell them I don't mean any harm! Tell them I just want to star in a picture!" I was trying to pull myself out of the tide pool. There was a stretch of open beach behind it. If I could get there, I supposed I could hoof it down the sand and make it back to Venice Beach. Of course - as I'm sure you noticed - I ain't exactly Johnny Weissmuller. Thanks to my flabby gut, I'd be lucky to make it a couple of feet before the sea lions smashed me. Still it was worth a shot. I tensed up and prepared my move.
Then I heard a harsh barking behind me. I turned around and there was another seal - and one far bigger than any of his fellows. This sea lion was King Kong, a hulking mountain of blubber and snarling teeth. He was one of them elephant seals, with a big wiggling nose and red cracks on his belly. But he was standing up too and carried a great club in one webbed hand, this one ringed with curved shark's teeth. He had a crown too, made of shimmering coral. I guess he was the king of this aquatic contingent. He bellowed so loud that Fiona fell silent. Then he pulled back his club and prepared to kill me. I waited for the blow and tried to remember the prayers I'd learned in Hebrew school.
But then I heard something else - a rumbling engine. I looked over the seal king's shoulder. He turned around too, swaying his massive, blubbery head. Coming down the beach was a dune buggy, a small, two-seater vehicle stripped down and given big tires so it could speed over the sand. It was moving at a good speed, with sand flying behind it in a cloud. And who should be behind the wheel but Betty Bright, from Donovan Motors in La Cruz.
I knew Betty. She was an expert on fast cars and the paranormal and the only broad who worked at Donovan Motors. I'd used that outfit to get stunt drivers from my movies and she'd really helped me out during the shoot for Gas Pedal Girls Vs. The Nazi Balloonist. She was another blonde, though her hair was in a shot, business-like cut ending just past her ears. Her short red jacket and collared shirt added to the impression that she was more of a librarian than a college girl. Maybe I wouldn't have put her in my movies - but I was still glad as hell to see her.
Betty sped the dune buggy straight across the beach. The seal king looked up and followed the bouncing buggy with his eyes. Too late, he realized what Betty was doing. She drove the dune buggy straight over the beach and rammed it into his side. His blubber protected him - but it still sent him flying back and rolling against the beach. He roared and spun around, his flabby sides wiggling before he came to a stop.
Then Betty hopped out of the dune buggy and ran to me. She offered me her hand and strained a little hauling me up. "Mr. Schlosser," she said. "You okay?"
"Call me 'Doc,' doll - and thank Christ, I am." I grinned as I came to my feet. "These sea lions would-" But my words were interrupted when Betty raised her snub-nosed pistol and started shooting. She cracked out a few shots in the direction of the sea lions. They moved back, still roaring and waving their clubs. And while they were busy, Betty moved.
She dashed over to the rocks and knelt down, looking through the tide pools and surf like she was checking out the sea cucumbers. "Come on, come on..." she muttered. "Where is it?" While she was looking, the seal king seemed to have recovered from getting smacked by the dune buggy. He waddled towards her, honking and wiggling his head around. She reached into some rocky crevice and hardly saw the seal king approaching.
"Betty!" I cried. "Look out!"
The seal king slammed down his club. Betty leapt back, scrambling over the rocks and splashing through a tide pool. But now she had something in her hands. It was a long, sleek brown cloth with a strange shape - a kind of hood and flippers poking out of the sides. After a while, I realized that it was a seal's skin. Betty tucked her snub-nosed pistol into her coat pocket and pulled out a lighter. She cracked it to life, letting the flame flicker at the edge of the skin. All of the sea lions went crazy. It was like something had taped fire crackers to their bellies. They barked and thrashed around, waving their clubs madly. Betty didn't falter.
"All right!" Betty cried. "Back off into the water or I'll burn it! You don't like your little girl living in the world of men? I'll make sure she can't leave. Now get into the sea! I'm not lowering this lighter until I see you in the water!"
Slowly, the sea lions started for the water. They splashed down, some carrying their clubs with them. The seal king was the last to go. He waddled backwards, keeping his eyes on Fiona. She moved to follow him, but Betty shook her head. "Uh-uh, miss," she said. "You stay right there. We need to talk." Fiona held her ground and the seal king went backwards into the sea. He watched her the whole time with his dark little eyes. They looked sad.
When all the seals were gone, Betty approached Fiona. "What's your name, dear heart?" she asked.
"F-Fiona," Fiona whispered. "I never meant - he said he could convince my father that-"
"It's okay," Betty told her. "You're not in trouble or anything. I know you didn't mean any harm. You airheaded seals never do." She handed Fiona back the skin. "Listen - if you want to hang around up here, you can. But you've got to leave your family behind. Maybe you can visit every other month, but you can't be a seal half the time and a woman the other half. It leads to all kinds of complications." Her eyes sparkled. "You've got to ask yourself what you want most and go for that completely." Fiona gingerly took the seal skin. "Now go on back to them, take a few days, and make up your mind."
Fiona wrapped the skin around her. Then she began to change. She put her hands and legs in the flippers. The seal skin stretched, until it encompassed her completely. She slipped her head under the pointed hood. It slid down and covered her face. The seal's black eyes sparkled. Then Fiona ran to the ocean. She fell down on her hands and legs and waddled along on flippers. Then she slipped into the water, a sleek dart of black under the surface. She was a sea lion, just like her fathers and brothers.
"Good Christ!" I muttered. "What the Hell was that?"
"Selkies," Betty explained. "I heard there was a bunch of them around here." She walked over to me, hopping down from the jagged rocks. "Their seals who can lose their skins and walk around as people - but they're naive and often end up causing trouble."
I nodded. "Goddamn right they did. That babe was gonna be the headliner for my latest picture!" I looked after her and sighed. "Oh well. At least she'll be the one that always got away." Then I stared at Betty. She was pretty - with her upturned nose and nice smile. "Say," I said. "How'd you like the lead role in Psycho Surfers from Bloodbath Beach? I bet you'd clean up nice and look good in a bikini!"
Her answer? A stinging slap on the cheek. Ladies and gents, you can't win them all.
Well, what did you think of that, boys and ghouls? A real gone story, if I do say so myself. Doc Schlock sure does have an eye for the babes on the beach. Only this time, it looks like he got in too deep. If Betty Bright hadn't shown up, he'd have been fish food - and even she barely got him off the hook. So dig this, cool cats - next time you see some blonde bombshell strolling your way across the beach, make sure she doesn't end up exploding in your face, and that her father and brothers ain't the type with flippers. Thanks for the story, Doc Schlock. Now who's next?
Oh, looks like Tentacle Head's heading this way. What's he saying? "A wretched tale, you pompous glutton - and one which hardly scrapes the surface of the true horrors waiting for mankind in the fathomless depths of the blackest seas!"
Let me talk to him. "Yeah, well how about you head down there - seeing as your such a drip. Now, who else has a story to tell?" Let's eyeball the guests. Oh, here's a cat who always lets curiosity nearly get him killed. His name's Walt Weaver and he's a private eye. Dig the weather-beaten trench coat hanging over his shoulders like a defeated nation's flag. There's a fedora shading his tired, half-closed eyes too and his tie's rumpled. "Say, shamus," I tell him. "You got a story to tell?"
He fixes me with a stare that could skewer someone. "Yeah," he agrees. "I got one." Get close, cats and kittens, while Walt finishes his glass of scotch and begins. "It's a little story about some dead men that didn't stay dead and a fellow who got too greedy trying to make money off of them. It's a story about how sometimes, there really is...
II. Rest for the Wicked
The case seemed simple. Then again, they always do. It was bunko work, investigating a con artist who was preying on the rich and stupid of Los Angeles. His name was Roland Minto. He was a traveling medium who had set up shot in a trailer a few months back. He wore a turban and spoke to the dead. He'd bring back your beloved great aunt so she could say that she loved you one more time before getting back to dominos in Heaven. You know the type. A solid gold con. He'd been working the cream of the city for some time and it wasn't long before one of them - a developer's daughter to be specific - got tired of her inheritance vanishing into Minto's coffers. She came to my office and hired me to prove that Minto was a fraud. For the dough she was offering me, she could have asked me to investigate Billy Sunday and I still would have taken the job.
Minto had his place in a vacant lot off Wilshire. I drove out there in my old Studebaker, eager to get the job over with and get paid. It wasn't just the money that tempted me. It was Minto's whole operation. I'd never really had anybody I could count on - not unless you count the revolver in my shoulder-holster - and some jerk digging up painful memories of those who did have loved ones in order to make a fast buck made me sick to my stomach. I pulled my Studebaker into the empty parking lot, hopped out and eyeballed the place.
It looked like a dump. The lot was empty apart for a long silver trailer against a chain link fence. The trailer's sides had been buffed to a dull shine. Shining blue velvet curtains hung in the windows, It looked like a spaceship getting ready to fly. I looked it over and then headed to the door. The day was as hot as a pinch of chili powder. I could feel sweat trickling down my neck and sinking into my collar. I wanted this case to be cracked.
I reached the door to the trailer. It opened before I could knock. The fellow standing there looked familiar, but in a way I couldn't quite place. He was wearing a black tuxedo and looked like a hungry sharecropper who had wandered into a costume shop and picked out the fanciest suit available. He was rangy, with hungry cheeks and cruel eyes, his straw-colored hair combed sideways. He glared at me and I glared back and then he stepped aside and Minto himself appeared in the doorway.
"Hello there, sir!" he said, with a booming showman's voice. He looked like I expected him to - a shining blue tuxedo, a pencil thin moustache and a turban with a fat, fake jewel in the middle. He ushered me inside with a wave of his hand. "And don't mind my man Lash here. He's much more in tune with the spirit world than even I and mortal interactions baffle him."
"So I guess you don't get him to answer the telephone, huh?" I walked inside. The trailer was cramped, but made up in style for what it lacked in size. Blue velvet lay thickly on the round table in the center of the room and coated the walls, floor and ceiling. There was a glass crystal chandelier, dangling in the center of the room. A single wine bottle stood at the edge of the table, with a pair of glasses ready to go. The lights were kept low, so that only a fraction of the LA heat got inside. I took off my fedora and walked inside, my boots crunching on the carpet.
Minto swung over to the table and started filling the wine glasses. "So, what dark fates bring you to seek out the souls of the dead?" He handed me a glass.
I took it and gave it a sip. The booze tasted sour. "I'm Walt Weaver. I'm a private eye."
"Ah." Minto nodded slowly. "And I bet your roving eye does not see a tenth of what my all-encompassing vision witnesses. You have come for help with a case? Perhaps contacting the spirit of some long dead murder victim to find their killer?"
This guy was full of himself. The kind of detectives who consulted psychics were the kind of detectives who couldn't find the produce section in the supermarket. Still, I decided to play along for now. "Sure," I said. "Something like that. It's just that I ain't really got the dead person I need contacted just yet. I wanted to make sure you were on the up-and-up, see that's everything shipshape before I put my client's money at your disposal." I looked past Minto at Lash. He was standing in the corner. He'd been looking at me for the entire conversation and hadn't blinked once. "That okay with you?"
The phony psychic nodded. "By all means, Mr. Weaver - look to your heart's content."
I did just that. First I walked to the table. My hands moved to the underside, looking for any hidden weights or devices that could make a tapping noise. There was nothing. I checked out the shelves behind the table, searching for any hidden speakers or flashlights. I'd done plenty of bug jobs before and knew that a hidden microphone could make noise as well as record it. But there was nothing besides dusty books on the occult and a jar of hair tonic. There was a door behind the table and I figured that's where the evidence would be.
I nodded to the door. "Mind if I have a look in there?"
"Be my guest." Minto remained pleasant. "I have nothing to hide."
"I'll bet." I opened the door and walked into the other room. This was Minto's bedroom. He had a single cot in the corner. That was odd. There was no place for Lash. Of course, maybe he just got a room at some flophouse down the lane. Or he simply didn't need to sleep. Then I found something else that was odd - a suitcase leaning against the wall. It was closed with a combination lock. All of Minto's clothes - mostly shining blue tuxes - were unpacked and hanging in his closet. What he did he want to keep locked up? I reached down and grabbed the handle.
I heard a grunt behind me and turned. Lash stood there, his arms folded. He was grinning now, the kind of smile that a butcher had before he brought the cleaver down on a chunk of meat. Minto appeared behind him. "May I ask you not to look in that suitcase, Mr. Weaver?" he said. "It's rather personal. After all, if I was a fraud, do you really think I could hide the keys to my trickery inside that small valise?"
"I suppose not." I stood up and let the suitcase fall. Minto's disposition now seemed as sour as his wine. I walked over to the door, still staring at Lash. "Well, I think I've seen all I need to. I'll go back to my office and think it over a little before deciding if I want to use you to help with my case."
Minto stepped next to me. His hand snaked out and touched my shoulder. "Of course." His grip was cold. "You know, Mr. Weaver, my interactions with the dead give me a rather unique perspective on the lives of the living."
"Is that so?" He pushed me towards the door. I moved. Lash followed - a shark sensing blood.
"Oh yes." We reached the door. "You see, the dead have no lies left in them. But the living do. I can tell when a soul is trying to hide something from me, whether they're in a body or floating through the ectoplasmic realms of the afterlife. And Mr. Weaver? You have a very guilty soul."
"Must be all those unpaid parking tickets." I reached the door and walked outside. I turned around and grinned at Minto. "So long, Minto. Hopefully, we'll see each other again."
"Hopefully," he agreed. He closed the door.
I walked over to my Studebaker, got in and started the engine. I drove down the block and then parked the auto. I wasn't done with Minto - not by a long shot. I got out and walked back to the vacant lot. The trailer door was closed. I moved carefully across the lot, making no sound on the pavement. I had learned to move quietly during the War. Plenty of Krauts had never seen me coming. Maybe that was the guilt that Minto could see in my soul.
A couple steps and I reached the side of the trailer. I leaned closer, pressing my face to the window and staring inside. The blue velvet curtains were open just a peek, enough to let me look at the trailer. It was like getting my own private show. I saw the table and Minto sitting at one end. The suitcase was on the table. He was opening it up. This what I hoped would happen. I'd rattle his cage and as soon as I left, he'd want to look at whatever evidence was kept in that suitcase to make sure it was safe. I'd played the same gag on countless suspects. It usually worked.
Carefully, Minto put in the combination for the lock. He opened the lid and I had a look at the case's contents. They were coke bottles with the labels peeled off, rows of them set against the blue velvet interior of the suitcase. They looked like loot in a treasure chest. I looked closer and then I saw that the bottles were all glowing. Then I saw that it wasn't the bottles that glowed, but what was inside of them. Each bottle contained a brilliant orb of pale white energy. It was like what's inside of a light bulb, but a thousand times brighter. The light was blinding.
I kept staring. The light burned into my eyes. Spots obscured my vision. I started to see things - a bride and groom standing at the altar, a bootlegger driving down some moonlit back roads, a doughboy dying face down in a muddy ditch in France. The images flashed through my mind like vacation slides. I knew what was in those coke bottles. They contained souls. The trapped souls that made Minto's business. Somehow, Minto had bottled LA's wealthy dead and then called in their relatives for a chat with the dearly departed. Then he could trot out the ghosts he'd captured, like a ringmaster bringing out the elephants.
The whole thing made me sick. Death was supposed to bring rest. That's what it was, right? A big sleep. Except Minto captured the dead and made them perform, turning it into an undying nightmare. I tried to think of how I could stop him. The law certainly couldn't do it. It can barely help the living and making slaves out of the dead wasn't illegal. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I stiffened. I hadn't heard the trailer door open and I hadn't heard anyone sneak up on me. I had been able to hear an SS trooper sneaking up on me in the snow of Bastogne and I hadn't heard this guy. I tried to turn, but then a thick cord slipped around my throat and tightened.
I was yanked back. My head was still reeling and then I found that I couldn't breathe. I hacked and coughed and then the door of the trailer did open and Minto stepped out. He grinned at me. "Mr. Weaver," he said. I could hardly hear him. The garrote - I suppose it was a belt - tightened again. "It seems your guilty soul brought you back to me. Let me introduce you to another guilty soul who is currently in my service - Earl Ray Lemark , better known as the Laurel Canyon Lasher."
So that's why Lash looked so familiar. His mug had been splashed all over the LA Times after he'd been caught. The Laurel Canyon Lasher had killed his way through over half-a-dozen victims, tying them up, whipping the skin off their backs and then garroting them to death. But the Lasher had been caught, tried and sucked gas in San Quentin. I had read the headlines himself. So that meant that the being crushing my windpipe was a ghost. I gagged and tried to make sense of Minto while the feeling left my legs. I sank to my knees.
Minto leaned closer and looked me in the face. "You think I'm so dumb, don't you?" he asked. "Some chump with a bad suit and a bag of tricks. Well, shamus, I'm gonna have Lash here kill you. Then I'm gonna trap your soul and make sure that you never find any peace. I'll use your eternal essence as an ashtray. What do you think about that?"
I opened my mouth and tried to tell him - but only strangled gasps came out. Then, from far away, I heard something rumbling. I couldn't see what it was and I didn't know if I was actually hearing it or not, but it sounded like a car's engine. That's when I saw the automobile, out of the corner of my eye. It was a Caddy, cherry red with sleek chrome on the fail fins. It smashed through the fence, rolling low on its tires. The Caddy sped over to the trailer, burning rubber as it came to a halt. A man in a baggy red zoot suit and fedora was behind the wheel. The Caddy stopped and he hopped out, an automatic blazing in his hands.
I recognized him, noting the coffee-colored skin and the neat moustache illuminated by the muzzle flash of the pistol. It was Angel Rey, a Mexican former Pachuco thug and part time shaman who worked for Donovan Motors at La Cruz. He certainly lived up to his namesake, showing up just in time to save my bacon.
His pistol shot whistled over Minto's head. Minto stepped back, moving towards his trailer. "All right, pendejo," Angel muttered. "I heard what you been doing - trapping souls and making them dance to your tune. It's sick, man, and I'm gonna stop it. Now let the detective go and keep your hands up while I try and undo the damage you've done."
I didn't know how Rey found out about Minto. I still don't. But I do know that his appearance made Minto sweat through his turban. He hadn't been shot. He looked like he was. Minto raised his hands and gingerly took a step forward. "Kill them both, Lash!" he screeched and then he dashed into his trailer. At that moment, I didn't care if he went on a one way trip to the moon. Lash had nearly squeezed the life from me. But when Minto left, the pressure went away too. I collapsed to the ground and Lash turned to face Angel. I lay on the warm pavement like a limp dishrag.
Lash drew closer to Angel. He wasn't bothering with keeping up appearances any more. His skin was faint and indistinct, like thick smoke caught in a tuxedo. A short bullwhip had appeared in his hands, the edges wrapped with barbed wire. I guess that was what the maniac had used on his victims. He cracked the whip on the ground as he stared at Angel. The whip kicked up dust and the crack was as loud as a gunshot. I didn't think the heater in Angel's hands would be useful against a ghost. Luckily, he had another weapon.
Angel reached into his coat. He came up with an obsidian-tipped axe, an ancient weapon that looked like it had been splitting the skulls of conquistadors back in the day. He faced off again Lash as the whip snaked out again. This time, Angel charged. He dove under the crackling coil of the whip and hurled down the hatchet. It slashed into Lash's face. I saw the ghostly skin split and then green slime - ectoplasm - boiled out of the phantom wound. Lash made no noise at all. He simply dissipated, like a cloud being broken up by the wind. His tuxedo rustled as it struck the ground.
By now, I had a few of my senses back. Enough to pull the revolver from my shoulder-holster, at any rate. I got the gun free just as Minto slammed open the door his trailer. He scrambled down the steps and hurried to the parking lot, his suitcase swinging in his hands. He was making a run for it. He pounded down the lot and tried to reach the edge. He would have made it too - if I hadn't fired and blasted open his knee. What can I say? I'm the kind of a guy who holds a grudge.
Minto struck down. The suitcase fell and broke. Coke bottles rained on the pavement. "No!" Minto cried. "God, no!" He lay there and tried to crawl as bottles shattered around him. Their lights spilled out into the pavement. The glowing grew around Minto, like he'd fallen in a puddle of moonlight. It began to boil. Minto started to scream. The glow of the souls surrounded him and then it was reaching into his mouth. His eyes started to glow and the screaming stopped. He lay still.
The souls ripped away from him. They flew up from the pavement and streaked into the sky, shooting stars against the Los Angeles smog. Minto lay behind them, still as the corpse he was. I guess the dead weren't happy about having their final rest denied. They'd decided to give Minto some peace as well. Now he was as dead as they were.
I managed to sit up. Angel walked over to me and offered his hand. "Pretty crazy, man," he said. "Looks like Minto's done for good, though."
"Yeah," I said. I coughed spit into the dust. "And the case is closed."
Wow! Now that was a story. Looks like Minto learned a valuable lesson about playing games with the dead - though I suppose he also took it the grave. I wouldn't worry about Walt Weaver either, boys and ghouls. He's already shuffling off towards the open bar to get himself some more scotch. Maybe I'd join him, if booze wasn't strictly for squares. When I wet my whistle, I always look for something a little warmer. But enough about me - let's find another story, you dig?
Take a look at the remaining guests. tentacle head's still there, like the chump at the party who no one wants to dance with. He's getting impatient. Are his tentacles wiggling around a little? Can't be, right? Must be your imagination. He's staring straight at me. "Enough of this blathering," he hisses, in a voice like a boot stomping in mud. "My own story waits to be told-"
And he doesn't get a chance to finish. A cat in a sharkskin gray suit and bowtie sidles up and stands in front of Mr. Tentacles. He's completely bald and sports a thin brown moustache. "Pardon me, pal, but I got a little tale I don't mind tattling. The name's Freddy Filigree. The occupation is wild writer, roving reporter and scintillating shutterbug for that fine publication known as Naked Truth Weekly. How about an exclusive?"
I'll talk to him, cats and kittens. "The Naked Truth? I think I use that to line my birdcages. But go ahead, Filigree. We're all ears. Entertain us."
Dig the way he struts to the center of the room, like an actor taking the stage. Freddy Filigree is one guy who knows how to put on a show. He clears his throat and begins. "Nothing like the foibles and failures of the rich and famous to get a little attention, is there?" he says. "That brings in the readers like nothing else. It's about fulfilling our expectations, I think. We knew they did something nasty to net all those big bucks and massive mansions. We just like having it told. Well, here's a story about how I found just how wretched the wicked rich can be. It's an exclusive story I'd like to title..."
III. Pagan Gold
His name was Ernie Cobin and I knew that if I wanted to move issues of Naked Truth Weekly, I'd have to dig up some primo dirt on him. Cobin had lucked into a lucrative locale for his chosen trade of used car salesman. After all, what benighted burg but our own City of Angels needs automotive transport so much? And cool cat Cobin provided the public's need. His string of Value Vroom lots kept station wagons in the front of suburban houses from Santa Monica to Bakersfield - and turned a tidy profit. The reason for his success was a simple as his simpering slogan: Cobin's clunkers never crashed. As far as LA's fine citizenry knew, that fine factoid was gospel truth. They came to Cobin to consume cars and he raked in the prodigious profits.
Of course, fickle fame does one thing wickedly well - and that's put you smack in the sights of the public eye. The public eye, in this case, was me: Freddy Filigree, star reporter for tumultuous tabloid Naked Truth Weekly. I wanted to see what putrid peccadilloes, frightening foibles and sensational sins the Big Ernie was hiding away. I had a feeling it would be something major and that would increase issue sales of Naked Truth. So, on a bright Saturday morning, I took my camera hidden under my coat, my notepad and fedora and got a cab ride out to the biggest Value Vroom lot in the city, where Cobin himself worked to market and move motors.
The Value Vroom lot was a bit outside of LA proper, secluded in the sprawl of infernal industry and grisly grayness that marks the less photogenic parts of our star-studded city. The cab dropped me off and I headed inside. My cover was commendable. I'd be a curious customer, am Average Joe with an average Josephine and three little Average Joe Juniors waiting at home and needed daddy to pick up a family vehicle for the perfect price. That was how Cobin brought in his bread and butter and it was a front that had frequently furthered my fabulous fables before. I admit, I even enjoyed it. I could be proud about needing some trenchant transport to take little Timmy to his little league game - and the tabloid tattling career just didn't have the same special touch.
But enough soliloquizing. I walked into the lot and let my peepers peek around. Rows of shining vehicles stood neatly before a off-color office. But here's an oddity that aroused intense interest - every one of those gas-guzzlers was painted pure gold. It was like Fort Knox meets the Indie 500. The corvettes, coupes and Cadillac's were shimmering gold, from bumper to tail fins. They sparkled and shone in the sun. It was a quite sight - a Yellow Brick Road of Buicks and Oldsmobiles. I stood and gawked like Dorothy.
Then a meaty mitt moved to my shoulder and squeezed. I spun around and found myself cozy with Cobin himself. He was bigger than I expected, a broad-shouldered brute turned businessman in a cheapie checked suit and a plaid tie. His hair was mud brown and brylcream-bathed. He looked like a lunkhead linebacker, except for his intelligent eyes. He spun me around and pumped my hand.
"Hello there, sir! If I could read men's intentions, and by god I believe I can, I would say that you are in the market for a new roadster!" Right away, I knew this tubby tiptop marketer's type - he was a born showman, just like me. "I'm Ernie Cobin - Earnest Ernie, they call me - and I'd be more than happy to help you make a decision. Let's make things personal, shall we? I'm your pal, Ernie. What's your handle?"
He was playing his role and so was I. "Ah...Seymour?" I suggested.
Cobin's melon moved up and down. "Seymour! I like that name. Let me take you down a little trip down all of our merchandise. What are you in the mood for, Seymour? Value? Speed? Power? I guarantee that we can get it for you." He held my hand and hauled me down the lane, past the rows of golden cars. "And remember my solid-gold guarantee: Cobin's clunkers never crash!"
"They never do?" I asked.
"Certainly not. Only the best motors reach this lot. I buy my own cars here, you know, and I haven't had a crash yet." He motioned to one of the rides, a shining golden goliath of a sleek convertible sports car. "How about a test drive? Get those tires moving, get the wind in your hair - what do you say, Seymour?"
I said the first question that quickly coalesced in my mind. "Why gold?" I asked.
"Not just gold," Cobin explained. "Pagan gold. That's the exact shade."
"Why Pagan gold?"
His grin grew. "It's a reminder, Seymour, of our sold gold guarantee. Now, care for a ride?"
You know what, lucky listeners? I decided that sure, I was up for a ride. Anything to keep me close to Cobin so I could uncover the solid gold skeletons in his closet. I nodded and let Cobin take me to the sports car. He had me sit in the passenger seat and he wiggled his way behind the wheel and wrapped his hand around the ignition. The car came to life, back up and spun around. We readily rolled with out of the lot and into the main road.
Cobin hugged the wheel. "I'll drive this round, Seymour," he explained. "You can ride back. I just want you to get a bird's eye view of the handling on this baby." He kept the gas pedal down, gaining more and more speed. We shot past a trundling truck in the oncoming lane. Wind whipped me. "Great Scott!" Cobin hummed. "Feel at that power!"
Now, Freddy Filigree isn't exactly brave - and Seymour was a timid as a toothless termite. At the moment, I felt fear for the both of them. "You want to slow down, Mr. Cobin?" I asked.
"No, Mr. Filigree. I don't." He turned around and eyeballed me. His grin was back. "You can drop the act, if you want. I know who you are. I get Naked Truth Weekly every week. I loved you expose on 'Mitchum's marijuana madness' last week, actually. But let me give you a tip, Filigree - a fake moustache does not a costume make. Especially when you've got your photo plastered in every issue." He kept the engine roaring. The speed soared.
I gripped my seat. "Want an autographed issue, cousin Cobin?" I asked. "It'd be my pleasure."
"No." Cobin hunched closer. "I want something else from you, Mr. Cobin. Let me ask you a question - you ever heard of Xaphan?"
"Sassafras?" I struggled. The problem of pronunciation was miles from my mind. Grisly automotive accident was taking up the prime spot. We were gaining speed every second and Cobin didn't appear to be letting up. We erupted from the industrial park and hit some hellish back road. I could see roadside crosses, little altars to the accident victims, sitting in the corners next to telephone poles. No one would make a memorial for me. "Come on, Cobin - slow down a spell!"
"Xaphan is a fallen angel, the demon in charge of Hell's infernal technology." Cobin belted out blasphemy while the needle ticked along in the speedometer."He's the one responsible for making the fires that keep Hell nice and toasty. Quite a guy, really." He reached into his coat and pulled out a sharp steak knife. "I was a loser, a sad sack door-to-door salesman until I found a book of invocations on the side of the road. They told me that all I had to do to make a better product was to ensure that the proper pay-offs are made."
"Cripes!" I cried. Cobin leaned over and grabbed my bowtie. He pulled me close.
"Bums. Out-of-towners looking for work. A tourist or two. I lure then in with promise and then take them for a ride. Then, when no one's around, I make the sacrifice." He nicked my neck with his knife. Lovely listeners, I'll not bother lying. I practically pissed my pants. "Blood is part of it. But Xaphan demands more. He's the demon of invention, after all. And his cars need to drive on roads paved with death. So get ready, Mr. Filigree. You're about to get the exclusive of a lifetime."
He was all set to stab - and I was all set to scream - when another motor rumbled nearby. Cobin regarded the rearview mirror with rage. "Rats," he hissed. "Some chump in a Packard." He eased off the gas pedal. But I looked as well and - wouldn't you know it - I recognized that bulky boiler. It belonged to Wooster Stokes, an Okie armed robber turned determined driver for Donovan's motors.
"Wooster," I whispered. "From Donovan's..."
"Donovan's Motors." Cobin slammed on the gas. "Goddamn it." His flivver flew forward. Wooster's Packard punched it and pelted after the convertible, gaining ground as well. Wooster leaned out of the window. A tommy gun was in the crook of his arm. His mouth was open, his tongue tossed in the wind like he was a dog. The bastard looked happy.
Wooster let out a hungry howl. "Cobin!" he cried. "Pull over! You run - I'll catch you!"
"Catch this!" Cobin snarled. He slashed me - enough to make bits of blood drip down and bathe the road below us. The droplets struck down. Hands reached out to grab them. They were clawed hands, dark as the pavement. They looked like tire-pulverized pavement too, with asphalt cracks and faded yellow lines. They reached up for the Packard. Wooster swerved. His chopper chattered. Bullet bashed the road demons. Dust danced.
The Packard kept rolling along. It bumped into the back of Cobin's car. Cobin kept his fingers around my throat. His other hand was holding the wheel, his fingers on the handle of the knife. He was distracted. I opened my mouth and bit him. Then I rammed my elbow into his belly. Then I cracked my head against his. He left control of the wheel. The road turned. Crazy Cobin didn't.
I grabbed the wheel and yanked it. The sports car slithered back to the road. Cobin hadn't been wearing a seatbelt. No accidents in one of his gold medal motors, right? Wrong. Cobin went out the window as I bashed the brakes. He struck the road and rolled. Wooster quieted his car as well, still holding his tommy gun. I dove into the dashboard. I sustained a few bruises. Cobin wasn't so lucky.
The sports car stopped. I swiveled around and looked at him. He was a mess, his limbs twisted and his skin spread on the road and not on his face. But that was just the start. Remember those demonic hands that came out of the road? They came again. This time, they came for him. They grabbed his coat and yanked him down. He sunk into the road like it was topped with tar and not solid street. Cobin screamed until his head slipped under. Then he was gone for good. The demonic hands slipped away too. They didn't even wave goodbye.
While Cobin sunk, I reached for my camera. I got it out, took aim and was about to score a solid gold front page pic - when I saw that the camera had been mercilessly mashed when our boilers bumped. I sighed as Cobin was sucked away. A crazy story needed evidence and now there was none left. Behind him, Wooster's Packard rumbled to a halt.
He hopped out, carefully resting his alligator boots on the ground. "You doing dandy, Filigree?" he asked. "Looks like it. We had ourselves an interest in Cobin. Enchanted cars tipped us off and then I decided to follow him. I reckon I got here just in time."
"You could have arrived in time to save my camera, kid," I moaned. Then I shrugged as I looked at the golden sports car. Cobin was dead. The keys were still in the ignition. Maybe this righteous ride could be mine? I decided that it was worth the risk. I've been cruising in it ever since. Sure, the car's cursed - but these days, in this city - what isn't?
Now that's what I call a road story, cool kids and ghoul kids. I guess Cobin thought that he could get a few extra miles if he gave the devil a few extra souls. But it seems that he was driving at the wrong speed. That road he loved he so much? He's spread across it like butter on bread and he's keeping Old Scratch company down below. So much for his solid gold guarantee. Maybe he should have remembered to wear his seatbelt instead.
But let's bop back to my mansion for a little and continue with the bash. I wonder if anyone else has a yarn they'd like to share. Let me put out the request - uh-oh, here comes the Tentacle Terror. "Hey, daddy-o - want to tell your story now?"
His tentacles wave when he nods. "I do," he agrees. "And it shall be the last sound you will ever hear!" Oh man. Looks like those tentacles weren't exactly a costume after all. How did this clown get an invitation? "I am Bulbas-Yorath, Terror of the Eternal Depths!" Dig those tentacles. They're writhing like they're connected to a live wire. And didn't they used to be a lot smaller? Well, they're a lot bigger now. One seems to have wrapped around my belly. Looks like Bulbas-Yorath is the kind of affectionate cat who likes getting close before he licks you.
Don't worry, cats and kittens, everything's copacetic. Well, maybe not for some of the guests. Morris Schlosser's pressed against the wall. I wonder if this is giving Doc Schlock any ideas for some new creature feature films? Freddy Filigree's gone under the table. Walt's got his revolver out at least - dig how he never lets it leave his side - and he's gonna start shooting. Try not to put too many bullets in my wallpaper, daddy-o. I just redecorated.
Bulbas-Yorath's getting punched by bullets. Dig the blackish gunk coming from the wounds. I bet those stains ain't gonna come out easy. Uh-oh. Looks like Bulbas-Yorath's noticed Walt Weaver and he's not happy about the shamus shooting him. "Fool!" he bellows. "I was old when the world was young!" One of his tentacles just bashed Walt in the breadbasket. He lost his heater. This isn't going well. "It will take more than some mortal toy to stop my rampage!"
Well, boys and ghouls, maybe you shouldn't have answered my invitation after all. I wanted my bash to be gone - but not this gone. Now it looks like Bulbas-Yorath is gonna end our lives, the party and our lives - in that order. Of course, he's forgetting about the other four guests I invited. They like to show up fashionably late, but not because they care about their image. No, this are some real hepcats who are busy keeping the world safe. And I think they'll want to keep the world safe now. You met them before, cats and kittens, in each of the stories that my guests told tonight. They're the drivers of Donovan Motors. Here that engine, cool kids and ghoul kids? That's them showing up.
Damn! There goes the wall. A stripped down Ford deuce just bashed its way inside, mangling my woodwork. It's a classic car, an A-bomb on wheels with a shining silver motor exposed to the air, a shimmering black paint job and brilliant gray streaks. And look who's coming out. There's Betty, the chick from Doc Schlock's story. She's got some old leather-bound book open and is chanting odd syllables. Sounds like you'd need an tongue and half to read them. There's Angel. He's shooting Bulbas-Yorath with a carbine rifle. Wooster's riding in the back, getting some big guns ready. But where's the driver? There he is, with the leather jacket, black spit curl and greenish skin. That's Roscoe. He's dead, but doesn't let it slow him down.
"Fools!" Bulbas-Yorath faces them. "You cannot hope to-"
"Shut up, you overgrown squid." Roscoe's reaction is cold. This zombie cat is ice. Dig the crowbar in his hand. Watch how he flips around and then throws it. There's some real strength in those dead arms. The crowbar flies through the air, a black blur. It stabs straight into the pale, bulbous head of Bulbas-Yorath. It gives even him pause. He rocks back and forth on his legs. I guess a crowbar through the skull hurts, even for an antediluvian demon.
But Bulbas-Yorath's still going. His tentacles are still writhing, even though he let me and Walt down. "You simply don't have the power..." he moans. "To vanquish..."
"Nah." Wooster has gotten what he was gonna get from the truck. "Reckon we do." Holy Hell. It's a bazooka, an honest-to-God rocket launcher. I know the Captain - the cat who owns Donovan Motors - has plenty of contacts in the military. I guess they gave him that cannon. Wooster fires. The rocket belches smoke and flame. Dig the smoke trail. It crashes into Bulbas-Yorath. He flies backwards, tentacles flailing. He goes through the window. Shattered glass looks like falling snowflakes. Then he's going, going and gone right into the roaring ocean below my pad.
I pick myself up. You okay too, cats and kittens? Cool. "Thanks for that, man," I tell Roscoe. "If you didn't show up, I don't like to think what would have happen. Still, I suppose that's the reason why I always invite you to these parties of mine."
"Swell," Roscoe mutters. He picks up his crowbar. "Why don't you put on a record, Deadbeat. And pour me a drink."
That's no problem. Let me get some jazz going. But it looks like some of the other guests are feeling a little less than happy. Walt Weaver's picking glass out of his hair. "I get beat up enough on the job, Deadbeat," he says. "I don't need to get thrashed in my off hours."
"Yeah," Filigree agrees. "Deadbeat, next time you throw one of these little shindigs, remember not to send me an invite."
At least Doc Schlock's happy. "You see the size of those tentacles? Scarier than anything those schmucks from Universal can throw together." He shakes my hand. "I gotta go, Deadbeat. My scriptwriter's usually awake at this hour - being a dope fiend will do that to you - and I gotta get him writing my next picture: the Hot Rod Squad against the Tentacle Terror!"
They're heading out. That leaves you and me, cats and kittens - and the drivers. Oh, you're heading out too. Well, okay. But remember to stop by my pad next time I throw one of these bashes. Dig it - you'll never know who's gonna stop by.