The easiest houses to break into are the ones you’ve been in before. Nothing is more disorienting than trying to be silent in a dark house with no knowledge of the layout. Professional thieves are masters of two skills: observation and a keen sense of time. Maximize profit as the clock counts down to a shotgun blast through the thorax.
The whole evening had started with me in the Silverlake Lounge, a normal Thursday. I was trying to read the New York Times while a punk band screamed at an audience of five, two of which were employees behind the bar. “RAGE IS A CURE” was tattooed in bright red on the leader singer’s forearm, visible even as she pounded out Pachelbel’s canon on a marimba. Not bad, though it’s tough to make it as a band when your tattoo is the best thing going for you.
What I read next threw me bodily out of my seat, and I let loose a yelp so loud even the drummer stopped for moment. Could it be true? In The Times no less?? I sprinted out the service exit and jumped into The Black Shark, flooring the gas so hard that a spray of gravel bombarded the side of the building on my way out.
E.C. Fiori. Only he could explain this- make sense of it all. Fiori is one of those people who has a truly unique perspective, a real god damn writer, if only society would get out of the way and let him.
I sped east in the crown vic, the V8 a pulsing black scar under the hood, frantically slaloming between lanes, towards miracle mile. Pulling up in front of his english tavern of an apartment building, I wrestled with the “Bull-Buster” cattle prod I keep under the driver’s seat. It’s always best to start heavy- you can always be sane later.
Slipping a coat hanger through the gap in the two front windows, it was only a few moments before I was standing beside his bed, my cattle prod jammed under his chin. “Explain this.”
His eyes opened, blinked once, and took stock of the man standing above him waving a crumpled copy of the New York Times “Opinion” page in his face.
He seemed calm, perhaps because this was the fifth time I’d done this since Trump was elected, or perhaps because he had seen the signs I had. Or, as it turned out, it could be because he was pointing a massive revolver at the side of my head. I could read “Taurus: Judge” stamped on the barrel. Where did he get it? How did he know I would come? Was the bastard sleeping with the pistol to end all pistols in his right hand every night now? Had our country come to this?
He offered to make me coffee, and I agreed. If I shocked him with the cattle prod his muscles would seize like galvanized bridge cables, pulling the trigger and putting an entire shotgun shell through my head. Never pays to continue negotiations at a disadvantage, and he always made good coffee.
In the kitchen he served me a cold brew, all while keeping the Judge aimed at me, but he knew I wasn’t going to try anything. The op-ed sat between us, and I must have looked feeble and defeated in the warm light of his kitchen.
“Is it true? How could The Times print this?”
“I know. I’ve heard it’s been in the works for years. Anger at being wealthy and not ruling Washington.”
“Californian secession though? Civil war? Before the new administration is even sworn in?!?”
“Many will bleed under the standard of the bear.”
“Don’t these fools realize what secession would mean? It would mean the Siege of San Francisco! It would mean the Massacre of Reno, and the Route in Big Sur! The rest of the country would invade and water wouldn’t be the only thing we’d be missing. We’d have POW camps, years of litigation for war crimes and a permanent DMZ the size of-”
“Tactically speaking, it wouldn’t be a fast loss. Mexico might come in on the side of California, and China could back us too, not to mention the headquarters of Lockheed…”
“God damn it Fiori- not all of us have your tactical expertise and experience in the field! Explain it to the common man! Imagine I’m just a man off the street who broke into your home and asked you about the op-ed in the Times that explored the possibility of a Californian uprising.”
E.C. stroked his beard, then looked at me with tired eyes. Normally I would think it was the hour, but his grip tightened around the revolver, and when he spoke it was with steel in his voice.
“Jack, what you have to realize is that California is a great center of wealth. They have agriculture, entertainment, and technology. They get less from the government then they pay in, and it makes people stupid. It has for all of history. Why pay if we don’t get our way in D.C.?”
“We’ll both have to be unionists, when the time comes.”
I clenched the cattle prod with white knuckles in fury, tears coming to my eyes unbidden. “Why would our fellow statesman make us fight on the side of Trump? Why would they force that confrontation, smashing a liberal bastion that couldn’t be more prosperous through open rebellion? The federal government won’t act, but our state laws keep us fat and happy! Do they want the federal government to make every decision for them at the end of a AC-130 circling above? HOW COULD IT COME TO THIS?”
I sat at his table and cried low gulping sobs: for our future and present- surrounded on all sides by a country I no longer recognize, and ready to betray our foolish state to keep it that way.