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CHAPTER 3: VAN NUYS

Not many people have written books in the past 38 years. So nowadays every book that gets written sort of has to be a history book and a philosophy book and a survival book too. I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't tell you what I know about how things got to be the way they are and offer you some ideas about how to get things back to the way they were.

I hope you're gonna spew on about economics again. That was my favourite part of the last book!!

You're being sarcastic aren't you Dorktown. Listen. Economics is more than just the study of how we spend money. It's the study of how we make choices. The choices we make change our lives and change the lives of those around us. The choices we make could save the world. So economics is the study of how to save the world. It's important. Stop messing up my story.

Our story.

Our story.

We're writing this book in what we call Year 38. The reason we call it Year 38 is cuz the Big Bang happened 38 years ago. The world used to be a much swankier place. I know cuz I was there. I'm a prewar. Mohawk Hineyhole was there too. Skelli and Dorktown weren't. Skelli and Dorktown were postwars.

The Big Bang wasn't just a war. There were recessions and depressions. There were natural disasters and unnatural disasters. By the time it was all over the governments of the world had bombed themselves out of existence and taken 95% of humanity with them.

The Big Bang took away everything it could. But it couldn't take away our grit or guff or gumption or good old-fashioned American ingenuity.

The human brain has a thing called negativity bias. We focus on the bad stuff to ensure that threats don't get the better of us. Negativity bias made it easy for people like Howard Zinn to catalog all the things that the USA got wrong. Yeah I read that book and yeah I get it.

But I'll bet you a hundred bucks you don't know who Norman Borlaug is. Norman Borlaug was an American who saved a billion lives by inventing new strains of wheat that could feed the entire planet. A billion lives. If positivity bias were a thing we'd all be wearing t-shirts with pictures of Norman Borlaug on them.

When we look back it's easy to figure out what the USA got wrong. But the USA was the most prosperous country in history. So what was it that the USA got right?

I'm gonna figure it out and I'm gonna rebuild the world. I may be a moneygrubbing pig but I got dreams too. Who says you have to suffer and sacrifice? I'm gonna save the world. I'm gonna have a good time doing it. And I'm gonna make a heap of money to boot.

The Firebuddy is just the beginning. Someday there will be a Firebuddy that fits in your pocket. Someday we'll have skyscrapers and jets and rockets again. We'll have space stations in orbit and cities on the moon.

And shiny fucking Trans Ams with big fucking birds painted on the bonnets.

Don't even try to pretend like you don't want one.

I do want one!! Black with a pink bird. But can we get back to the fighting and killing now??

Ok. Where were we?

Van Nuys.

"Van Nuys?" Dorktown asked. "What the fuck? We have to get to Norwood."

"You blaspheme too much" I said.

"'Fuck' isn't blasphemy. It's obscenity."

"Then you use too many obscenities."

"Your book is chock full of obscenities" she said.

"Well my next book isn't gonna be."

"Why not?"

"We can't rebuild the world thinking and talking like savages."

Dorktown rewound and started over. "Ok. Van Nuys? What the fiddlesticks? We have to get to Norwood."

"Pontiac Firebirds were assembled in two locations" I explained. "Norwood Ohio and Van Nuys California. Norwood is all the way across the country. Van Nuys is only two hours away. Mohawk Hineyhole will be headed there first."

Dorktown got out her book again and started flipping through the pages.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"If we've got two hours then I've got questions. Were you pretending to swap timelines with John when Skelli found you at the Gathering in Year 35?"

"I didn't even see her that year."

She laughed. "You're a twat."

"Don't say that word."

"You're a twit."

"I'm a storyteller."

"No you're not. I know for a fact that half your book is true. I just don't know which half. Like at the end of the book you were held at gunpoint by the woman with the paperclip necklace. She blamed you for her husband's death. She was gonna kill you. How did you escape?"

"I grabbed her gun and shot her."

"How did you find out what was on the film in your parents' safe?"

"There was never any film. But that really was the lullaby my mom used to sing to me."

"Close To You by The Carpenters" Dorktown said.

I pulled off at an old servo in Castaic that looked like it might still be in business. The joint was called Gallion's Corner. "We gotta get some petrol."

"No wait! I'm not done! How did Deadline get to Uranium Springs?"

I winked at her. Then I got out of the car and went in to look for signs of life.

Dorktown found my JVC RC-M90 boombox and Koss PRO-4A headphones in the back seat and tried them out. The JVC had a cassette in it that my dad made for me when I was a kid. It was a mixtape of live recordings of 70s rock performances. Dad used to travel around and go to shows and he'd always come home with a prized bootleg.

I found a bloke inside who had some petrol to sell. "Fill her up" I said.

The bloke was checking out Dorktown. "With pleasure" he said.

"I mean the car you yobbo. She's paying the bill so be nice to her. Where's the dunny?"

"Huh?"

"The restroom?"

"Around back."

I headed around the building and tugged on the door. Locked.

"Just a minute" a muffled voice said.

I paced around for a moment before I noticed the front wheel and fender of a motorbike peeking around from behind the building. Honda CR250M Elsinore. Just like Steve McQueen rode. It was the deep sea diver's bike.

The toilet flushed.

I found an old rusty shelving unit and pushed it up against the restroom door.

"Dorktown!" I shouted. "Dorktown!"

No response.

I ran back to the Pinto while the diver struggled to push his way out of the restroom. Dorktown was relaxing with her feet on the dash and listening to the music on the headphones. I snatched the headphones off her.

"It's him!" I said.

"Mohawk Asshole?" She turned around and went for her crossbow.

"No. The skag who stole my Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox!"

"Lunchbox? Jesus. I'll buy you another lunch."

"My lunchbox full of money!" I tried to grab her crossbow but she held on tight.

"You have a gun. Go shoot him." She put the headphones back on.

I ran back to the door and leaned against it. I pulled out my Liberator and twisted the cocking knob so it was ready to fire.

When the door opened I pointed the Liberator at him. "Give me back my lunchbox you... chum dumpster!" I yelled.

Wait that's a good one. He just earned himself a nickname.

Chumdumpster braced himself against the opposite wall and kicked the door as hard as he could. The shelving unit fell over with me under it.

He pushed his way out of the restroom. He had my lunchbox in his hand. He climbed on top of the shelving unit and trapped me under it.

I couldn't breathe. "Help" I whispered.

I could see his ugly mug laughing through the thick glass of his helmet. I stuck the gun against his metal suit and pulled the trigger. The gun blew itself in half in my hand. I dunno where the bullet went but it definitely didn't go into Chumdumpster.

He got up and kicked me in the face. It could have been worse. He had on a pair of red Adidas sneakers. I guess he hadn't been able find a cool pair of metal boots to match the rest of his outfit.

He tottered over to his bike and put my lunchbox in the saddlebag. He came back with a rope. He tied one end of the rope to my ankle. He tied the other end to his bike. He got on and started it up.

He pulled away slowly to tighten up the slack. He stopped and turned to look at me. Then he revved the engine and pulled away hard. He yanked me out from under the shelves and dragged me across the car park. The bike turned onto the road and picked up speed.

I curled into a ball and positioned the edge of my foot on top of the rope so I could crush it under my foot. The rope started smoking. The road surface burned through my shoelace and my shoe and my sock and then it started burning through my skin.

Finally the rope snapped. I slid into a ditch and Chumdumpster rode off.

My shoe was mostly destroyed and my shoelace was gone. I found a twist-tie on the ground and used it to fasten a couple of my shoe's eyelets together. I limped back to the servo with blood all over me.

Dorktown looked up and took off the headphones.

"How'd you go killer?" she asked.

"Why didn't you come after me?"

"You told me never to drive your car."

"You can drive my car if it's an emergency."

"Me drive Pinto! Me drive Pinto!"

"Only in an emergency. And there aren't going to be any more emergencies."

I got in the car and started it up. I paused and turned to face her. "If you do drive this car don't run into anything."

"Why not?"

"Pintos are famous for exploding."

"Exploding car. Got it."

"What are you listening to?" I asked.

She read from the cassette box. "Rolling Stones. Shattered. Live in Fort Worth 1978."

"Did you know Keith Richards survived the Big Bang? Last I heard he was still alive."

"Who's Keith Richards?" she asked.

I smiled and reached over to unplug the headphones. We rocked out together cruising through the mountains of southern California.

When we arrived in Van Nuys we noticed some folks setting up a flea market in a vacant lot. We stopped to check out their wares and see if we could get any information about the factory.

One coot had heaps of carburetors piled up in several shopping trolleys. I introduced myself.

"G'day. I'm Firebird. This is Dorktown."

"Tex Phoenix" he said.

"Nice to meet you Tex Phoenix." I popped the bonnet. "You got a carb that will fit my V6?"

"This ain't much of a Ford town. But I got one that might do the trick."

While he was digging up the carburetor I grabbed two pieces of Bubble Yum from my pocket. I put one in my mouth and tossed the other one to Dorktown. She unwrapped it and put it in her mouth. Her eyes widened in delight. Then she promptly swallowed it.

Tex showed me the carb. It had clearly been rebuilt with care. Clean as a whistle. New hand-cut gaskets and everything.

"You built this?" I asked.

"Yessirree."

"Mind if I try it out?"

"You go right ahead."

I got to work putting it on. "Do you build anything else?"

"I'll build you a whole engine if you like."

"How long have you been doing this?"

"Dang near fifty years. I used to work at the General Motors plant before the Big Bang. We all did." He gestured at the others.

"That's where we're headed" I said. "Can you give us directions?"

"It's just a few blocks thattaway. But you don't want to go there now."

"What do you mean?"

"It used to be our shop. I had a nice turbo V8 all put together and ready to sell. Yesterday a fopdoodle with a mohawk and a gollumpus in an old timey dive suit walked in acting like they owned the joint. They took my V8 and kicked us all out."

"Why'd they kick you out?" I asked.

"They wanted us to help them make cars. That got our attention. We've been dreaming of reopening that place for years. So we asked how much they were gonna pay us. They said they weren't gonna pay us nothing but we'd all share in the profits. If there were any profits. It could be years before we got paid. Sounded like a scam to me. We told them to go suck eggs."

"We wanna build cars there too" I explained. "We'll have jobs for you if you want them. Real jobs with paychecks. If not here then in Norwood."

Several other former factory workers overheard our conversation and joined us. One of them spoke up for the group.

"I'm Rosie" she said. "We all like the idea of jobs and paychecks. But we're getting older. Some of us can't do the jobs we used to do."

"You'll be the managers" I said. "The trainers. The planners. We'll get some macho men and macho women to do the heavy lifting."

"Who keeps the profits?" Rosie asked.

"There most likely won't be any profits."

"But if there are?"

"I make the plans. I take the risks. I pay the paychecks. If there are losses I'll pay for those too. But if there are profits I'll keep them."

"What if we want a share of the profits?"

I was starting to suspect that she used to be the union boss back in the old days. "I'll give you a cut of the profits but the paychecks will be smaller" I offered.

The group mulled it over for a moment.

"We don't like that idea" she said.

"I don't like it either" I said. "That's how we know we've met in the middle." I held out my hand.

She talked with her compatriots for a moment then shook my hand.

They muttered excitedly. One of them opened up a Firebuddy and started speaking into a microphone handset about the possibility of the factory reopening. I'd never seen someone use a Firebuddy like that.

I designed the Firebuddy to be a machine that you could build upon. That was the beauty of it. It was a general purpose computer. You could add your own hardware and software and give it new abilities that I never would have thought of.

"Excuse me" I said. "What's that you have connected to your Firebuddy?"

"I call it the Citizen's Buddy" she said. "It's a citizen's band radio but it can also transmit digitally and it can relay messages for a longer range. It can use the digital network to hop over gaps in the analog one and it can use the analog network to hop over gaps in the digital one. The other day I was able to relay a message all the way to Albuquerque."

Let me explain something to you postwars out there. Back in the 70s everyone thought truck drivers were really cool. And all those truckers had CB radios. So in the 70s everyone bought CB radios. My parents even had one in their station wagon. After the Big Bang all the copper wire infrastructure was out of commission but a lot of people still had working CBs. So they're still one of the best ways to keep in touch.

"If I had any money I'd buy one" I said.

"If I had any left I'd sell you one" she replied.

"What's your name?"

"Qwerty."

"It's an honor to meet you Qwerty. I'm Firebird."

She laughed. "The inventor of the Firebuddy? The honor is all mine."

I took leave of Qwerty and pulled Tex aside to ask him some more questions.

"Are there enough parts left in the factory to build any cars?" I asked him.

"There are some motors and subframes sitting around. Lots of body panels. Not enough parts to make a complete car. But you could probably get some kind of frankencar up and running."

I put the air cleaner back on and started up the Pinto.

"Carb sounds great. What do I owe you?"

"Put it in my first paycheck" Tex said. "If you survive."

"Survive?" I asked.

"They said they'd cut off our heads if we didn't leave town."

"Cut off your heads?" I laughed. "Really?"

Just then a deuce-and-a-half turned a corner and headed toward the plant. The deuce was towing a trailer behind it. Built onto the trailer was an actual goshdarn guillotine.

"Do you want a ride out of here?" I asked.

"We ain't going nowhere" Tex said.

The deuce had a bunch of floozies riding in the back. I call them floozies cuz no matter their gender or race or age every one of them had on a ridiculous blonde wig. I will dub them the Flirty Dozen.

"Now listen" Tex continued. "There's a guard out front. But you don't have to go in the front." He reached into his pocket and handed me a single key on an old GM keychain. "This here key opens the fire door on the side of the main building."

"We'll go in tonight" I said. "We need somewhere to hole up until then."

"If you head southeast to Burbank there's a little place called the Safari Inn" he said.

When we arrived at the inn the sky had yellow and orange and purple stripes just like my Pinto.

The motel pools are all empty nowadays so I grabbed my skateboard and went looking for it. When I found the pool I set my board on the edge and dropped in. I slammed in a puddle of muck.

I heard Dorktown laughing at me. I looked up and saw her sitting on the edge of the pool with her legs dangling.

I was in me undies.

Yes you were. But I don't want them to think of you that way.

I don't mind.

Yes but you have more to offer than that.

Anyway Dorktown had my tape player with her. She pressed play. Bruce Springsteen. Rosalita Come Out Tonight. Live in Phoenix 1978. Four different women stormed the stage that night.

I dropped into the pool again. I pulled off a couple grabs and even a little grind. I always skate better when I have someone to show off for.

I climbed out of the pool and grabbed a couple more pieces of Bubble Yum. We popped them in our mouths. Dorktown swallowed hers again after chewing for just a minute.

"That's not how you do it. Watch."

I blew a bubble as big as Dorktown's head. Her eyes widened in amazement and she smiled. And the smile she gave me wasn't the smile she used when she wanted to get something from you. This smile was real and radiant and I never wanted it to end.

"Let me try let me try!" she pried the gum out of my mouth. She chewed it a bit. She tried to blow a bubble but she just spat the gum into my face.

Cute story but it ain't gonna stay that way.

When we got back to the room I set the alarm for 2:30am. Dorktown promptly fell asleep but I did not. I opened up Dorktown's Firebuddy and read through more of the depressing Hellies vs. Gillies vitriol on You Are Awaited.

When the alarm went off I stood up and grabbed my axe. Dorktown yawned and grabbed her crossbow. "Time to go do some killing" she said.

The Pinto crept toward the plant. I kept the headlights off. We parked a block away.

Firebird was wearing a watch so I asked him what time it was.

"I dunno" he said. "It's broken."

Then I realised he was still wearing the broken watch his dad had given him 38 years ago. In his last book he'd claimed that he'd chucked it out a window.

I don't see how that's relevant to the story.

You're a goddamn softcock and you're about to prove it.

I pulled a pair of handcuffs out of my pocket. I slapped one cuff onto the steering wheel and the other cuff onto Dorktown's wrist.

"What are you doing?" she cried.

"This isn't who you are" I said.

"You don't know who I am!"

"This isn't who I want you to be."

I got out and took the axe with me. Dorktown tugged at the steering wheel furiously to no avail. I headed for the assembly plant.

The facility was massive and made up of several buildings. But what had once been a shining bastion of progress and prosperity was now nothing but a ghostly collection of blackened husks.

Light was coming out of a large open rollup door in the main building. The sand rail and the Elsinore motorbike and the deuce-and-a-half with the guillotine trailer were parked out front. A goon in a blonde wig was out there too just like Tex said he would be. He was sharpening the blade of the guillotine. He had two prisoners with hoods over their heads tied to the front bumper of the deuce.

Great. Now this is a rescue mission too? Last time I rescued someone she listened to music while watching me get dragged away by a motorcycle.

I went around the side and used Tex's key to sneak in through the darkened fire door. I had some trouble pushing the door open cuz something was leaning up against it. I squeezed my way in but in doing so I knocked over a pile of something.

I was greeted by Tex's mutilated head on a pike just centimeters away from my face. There were a dozen other heads on a dozen other pikes too.

If you came here to read about grisly murder well then there you go. But before you start wanking off to it I got something I wanna say.

They named the guillotine after a bloke named Guillotin. But he never even built a guillotine. He just came up with the idea. He was horrified when they named the device after him. He didn't believe in the death penalty. He just wanted to improve upon the long and agonizing spectacles that public executions had become. He hoped that performing executions in this abrupt and boring way would discourage the crowds of gawkers from showing up.

It didn't work. People were more excited than ever to watch others lose their lives. Children sang guillotine songs and played guillotine games. Artists made guillotine art. Families used miniature novelty guillotines to slice vegetables. Jokes were made and idioms were born like "Heads will roll."

Doctors performed experiments on the heads. They'd talk to them and slap them and give them instructions to respond to in order to see how long the heads would stay alive. The answer is somewhere between three and thirty seconds. Either end of that range sounds like way too long to me.

The last legal guillotine execution happened in France in 1977. Just as society was about to cease this savagery for good the Big Bang came along and the savagery started all over again.

I'd much rather drop someone out of a helicopter.

Why do you keep bringing up helicopters Dorktown? You're missing the point. Killing isn't supposed to be fun. Every living being is an enchanted collection of molecules.

Now I know at this point in the story I was carrying an axe down a hallway with the intention of taking the enchantment away from a particular collection of molecules. But I'd been considering this for 38 years. And I'd shown him mercy once. Like Dorktown said. Page 129. That wasn't gonna happen again.

We'll see about that.

I was in a dark hallway with several entrances to dark offices. I could see a dim light coming from around a corner up ahead. I rounded the corner and at the end of the hallway there was a door leading out to the main floor. The door had a window in it. Framed right in center of that window was a hacked together Chevrolet Trans Am Pontiac Camaro frankencar. I'll call it the Frankenbird.

It was quite majestic in its way. The nose was from a 78 Firebird but the tail was from a Camaro. It had side pipes with no heat shields. Gratings were welded on in the places where windows were supposed to be. Tex's turbo V8 engine was jutting out of a hole in the bonnet but they'd piled dual stacked superchargers on top of it too. Where the firebird logo was supposed to be they'd painted a bird's skeleton instead. The car looked like something I would have drawn in grade school which is to say it looked awesome and scary as hell.

A petrolhead in a blonde wig was working late trying to get the abomination running. He kept trying to start it up but the motor refused to comply.

Then I heard someone snore loudly in the darkened office right beside me. I froze and waited for another snore. Then I snuck in.

Someone was on a mattress in the center of the office. I moved closer. It was him. Mohawk Hineyhole. Still in his tuxedo.

He'd killed my family. He'd killed Messenger Kid. Who knows how many others had died because of him? It was time to put an end to this.

Damn right it was.

I lifted the axe and aimed for his neck.

Did you hesitate?

I did not hesitate.

You fucking hesitated. And I know why. Laura told me.

They don't know who Laura is yet. You're getting ahead of the story. And this is kind of a pivotal moment.

At this point five things happened in quick succession.

1. The Frankenbird's engine somehow managed to fire up and the entire building started rumbling.

2. Mohawk Hineyhole woke up with a start and gave me a funny look.

3. The head fell off of my axe.

4. The butt of the axe head hit Mohawk Hineyhole in the forehead.

5. A voice from a dark corner of the room said "Dad?"

This was a lot to take in.

I looked up toward the voice from the corner of the room. It was Chumdumpster. He was still in that dive suit. He must sleep in that thing.

Now it would have been nice if that axe head had knocked Mohawk Hineyhole unconscious but instead it had imbued him with a more extreme form of consciousness. He got up.

A light came on in the hallway. I bolted out of the room and slammed the door. I held it shut. Mohawk Hineyhole and Chumdumpster were tugging on the knob. They were a couple of knobtuggers.

Several members of the Flirty Dozen came around the corner and stopped when they saw me. Every one of them had an AK-47.

I let go of the office door and kicked it in so it would knock over Hineyhole and Hineyhole Junior. I ran out the door that led to the main factory floor.

To my surprise I saw the Pinto coming right for me. Dorktown was driving while handcuffed to the wheel. The blonde goon from out front was hanging on to the bonnet for dear life.

I jumped into the air just as the Pinto smashed into the doorway. The goon flew off the bonnet and slid down the hallway knocking over his comrades like they were bowling pins. I landed on the bonnet where the goon had been just a second ago.

One of the Flirties shouted "Hold your fire! It's a Pinto!"

The Frankenbird's mechanic hadn't even noticed us. He was bent over that big idling engine. He tugged on the throttle cable. Boy howdy that car made a hell of a racket.

I jumped off the Pinto's bonnet. Dorktown went back to smashing into the doorway like some kind of lunatic. I'll forgive her for driving my car. This was an emergency and she was coming to my rescue.

No I wasn't. I was pissed off. I came to blow up everything with your exploding car.

Including yourself?

Including myself.

I'm glad the car didn't explode.

I started running for the Frankenbird but then I heard calls for help. It was the prisoners tied to the front of the deuce.

I made a detour and ran outside to free them. It turned out that the prisoners were Qwerty and Rosie. Rosie's hair was chopped off and she had a massive bruise on the back of her neck.

"They got my hair but my meat was too tough for them" Rosie said. It suddenly made sense why the Flirties were sharpening the guillotine when I arrived.

"I've decided not to reopen the Van Nuys facility" I said. "Due to a vermin infestation. If either of you are still interested in a job come find me in Norwood."

They thanked me and ran off into the darkness. I ran back into the building.

Dorktown was doing donuts and chasing the baddies around. Thanks to her distraction I made it to the Frankenbird without dying.

When I got to the car I slammed the bonnet down on the mechanic's head.

"What did you do that for?" he asked.

"You're a henchman" I said.

"I'm a mechanic" he said.

I looked at the massive pulsating engine sticking out of the Frankenbird's bonnet. "And not a bad one at that" I said. "Have you ever killed anyone?"

"Sure."

"In the past six months?"

He had to think about it for a second. "No."

"Well I don't know how you got this highly improbable motor running but if you ever decide you wanna work for someone who's not a murderous fopdoodle come find me in Norwood. My name is Firebird."

"I'm Superturbo" he said.

I hopped into the Frankenbird and gave it the bejeezus. Dorktown followed me in the Pinto. We flogged it out of there and began the race for Norwood.

NEXT: /heads-will-rock-a-chronicle-of-postapocalyptic-mayhem/chapter-4-seligman
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