Anne headed back to Los Angeles. Fifteen minutes out from the basin she slipped her earpiece in and called her uncle, who complained when he answered the phone that it sounded as if she were addressing him from the bottom of the ocean. Anne kept her eyes on the rearview mirror. Every time she changed lanes since passing some nowhere town, Banning or Hemet or one of those, a hulking SUV with custom rims and a leering grille that looked like a polished nickel maw loomed up behind her, like some kind of twenty-first-century version of the truck from Duel. “Uncle Manny, I might be being paranoid but I think someone’s following me.”
A hospital complex sprawled on the hill just above the freeway. “No, I’m on the 134. Uncle Manny—” She was going eighty in the second lane from the right. She moved a lane over as the freeway made a wide curve, and the Escalade followed. The drivers around her Ferrari and the pursuing Escalade started to thin and drop back—so cautiously—oh so unusual in Los Angeles—as a steady stream of drivers attempted to evade this disturbance in the traffic flow.
Anne accelerated into the fast lane. The Escalade followed right along behind, dangerously close. The freeway straightened out. She stopped talking. She could feel her heart sprinting and felt quick searing heat spread throughout her chest as her breath became ragged with stress. The sound of the car’s engine and a strange rushing filled her ears, or was that her pulse reverberating? She saw a sign for the Brand exit. A truck labored and ground its gears, trying to get up to sixty ahead of Anne and in the next lane over. The Escalade was doing a funny shimmy, drifting to the side behind the Ferrari and back again, just to emphasize its presence. Anne’s mood switched abruptly from near-terror to anger; she felt fury at the Escalade’s driver and deliberately pressed the “Sport” button on the dash, tapped the paddle shift on the steering column, yanked the wheel to the right, and as the engine engaged the Ferrari rocketed from eighty-seven mph to two hundred miles per hour in seconds, but it felt like a little eternity. She came within inches of the rear of a truck and hurtled across the other two lanes, head swiveling, eyes darting, internally screaming, on a sharp trajectory for the Brand exit. The Escalade had nowhere to go but into the side of the truck or straight-ahead. So it was with some relief that Anne found herself driving off the exit without her menacing traveling companion and down a boulevard of glass-and-steel office towers.
Suddenly, hands tight on the steering wheel, as she struggled to return her heartbeat and breathing to normal she heard a weird squabble of echoing, aqueous sounds, her uncle’s voice bubbling and popping to the surface, “Annie! Anne! What’s going on?!”
“You’re in Glendale.” They discussed, briefly, the route home through Hollywood. Anne was trembling and concerned her uncle would detect the quaver in her voice. “Now, Anne. You call me the minute you get to your father’s.” Uncle Manny signed off with the unwelcome information that his aged bladder and enlarged prostate dictated the length of his phone calls—but Anne quickly realized she’d nearly scared the piss out of him as well, and she herself felt barely confined to her skin. She desperately needed to shake the sense she was still traveling at high velocity. As she drove she spotted an ersatz town square marked by a sign reading “The Americana” and another for “Valet Parking”; she pulled in, got out, and handed over the keys to a waiting valet.
Her destination turned out to be a mixed-use condominium complex and shopping mall. A kind of Disneyland devoted to high-density living and consumerism. It was meant to look like Charleston, but the multistory dwellings above the bedecked store windows had vinyl mullions and vestigial wrought-iron balconies. There was a tiny trolley that ran over rails set into wooden slats, which was stuffed with exhausted parents and shrilling children, and above it all Frank Sinatra was crooning on a continuous loop. Scared and suddenly depressed, Anne walked to a waiting bench. She looked to the center of the spanking-new complex. Set in a green lawn was a spouting fountain jetting water into the air; at its center was a gold statue of man tilting in space that, the longer she contemplated it, reminded her of an extremely chintzy version of the statue in Rockefeller Center. It occurred to her that an old movie starring Joan Crawford called Mildred Pierce had been set in Glendale. The storyline involved social climbing, adultery, murder, and a waffle house on Brand Boulevard…