“Are You For 86?” by Bruce Sterling (1992)
*In the American Civil Cold War, what comes around, goes around.
Are You For 86?
by Bruce Sterling
Leggy Starlitz emerged from behind cool smoked glass to the raucous
screeching of seagulls. Hot summer sun glinted fiercely off the Pacific. The
harbor smelled of tar, and of poorly processed animal fats from an urban
“Hell of a place for a dope deal,” Starlitz observed.
Mr. Judy hopped lithely out of the van. Mr. Judy was a petite blonde
with long pale schoolgirl braids; the top of her well-scrubbed scalp, which
smelled strongly of peppermint and wintergreen, barely came to Starlitz’s
shoulder. Starlitz nevertheless took a cautious half-step out of her way.
Vanna, in khaki shorts and a Hawaiian blouse, leaned placidly against
the white hull of the van, which bore the large chromed logo of an extinct
televangelist satellite-TV empire. She dug into a brown paper bag of trail
mix and began munching.
“It’s broad daylight, too,” Starlitz grumbled. He plucked sunglasses
from a velcro pocket of his cameraman’s vest, and jammed the shades onto
his face. He scanned the harbor’s parking lot with paranoiac care. Not
much there: a couple of yellow taxis, three big-wheeled yuppie pickups with
Oregon plates, a family station wagon. “What the hell kind of connection is
“The Wolverine’s got a very good rep,” Mr. Judy said. She wore a
white college jersey, and baggy black pants with drawstrings at the waist
and ankles. Tarred gravel crunched under the cloth soles of her size-four
kung-fu shoes as she examined a Mexican cruise ship through a dainty pair
of Nikon binoculars.
Half a dozen sun-wrinkled, tottering oldsters, accompanied by
wheeled luggage trolleys, were making their way down the pier to dry land
and the customs shed.
Starlitz snorted skeptically. “This place is nowhere! If Wolverine’s a
no-show, are you gonna let me call the Polynesians?”
“No way,” Judy told him.
Vanna nodded. She shook the last powdery nuggets of trail mix into
her pale, long-fingered palm, ate them, then folded the paper bag neatly and
stuck it in the top of her hiking boot.
“C’mon,” Starlitz protested. “We can do whatever we want out here,
now that we’re on the road. Let’s do it the smart way, for once. Nobody’s
Mr. Judy shook her head. “The New Caledonians are into armed
struggle, they want guns. The commune doesn’t deal guns.”
“But the Polynesians have much better product,” Starlitz insisted. “It’s not Mexican homebrew crap like Wolverine’s, this is actual no-kidding
RU-486 right out of legitimate French drug-labs. Got the genuine industrial
logos on the ampules and everything.”
Mr. Judy lowered her Nikons in exasperation. “So what? We’re not
making commercials about the stuff. Hell, we’re not even trying to clear a
“Yeah, yeah, politically correct,” Starlitz said irritably. “Well, the
French are testing dirty nuke explosives in the South Pacific, in case you
haven’t been reading your Greenpeace agitprop lately. And the Caledonian
rebel front stole a bunch of French RU-486 and want to give these pills to
us. They’re an insurgent Third-World colonial ethnic minority. Hell, all
they want is a few lousy Vietnam-era M-16s and some ammo. You can’t get
more politically correct than a deal like that.”
“Look, I’ve seen your Polynesians, and they’re a clique of patriarchal
terrorists,” Mr. Judy said. “Let ’em put a woman on their central committee,
then maybe I’ll get impressed.”
Mr. Judy sniffed in disdain. “You’re just pissed-off because we
wouldn’t move that arsenal you bought in Las Vegas.”
Vanna broke in. “You oughta be glad we’re letting you keep guns on
our property, Leggy.”
“Yeah, Vanna, thanks a lot for nothing.”
Vanna chided him with a shake of her shaggy brown head. “At least
you know that your, uhm… your armament…” She searched for words.
“It’s all really safe with us. Right? Okay?”
“Have a nice cold guava fizz,” Vanna offered sweetly. “There’s still
two left under the ice in the cooler.”
Starlitz said nothing. He sat on the chromed bumper and deliberately
lit a ginseng cigarette.
“I wonder how a heavy operator like Wolverine ended up with all
these retirees,” Mr. Judy said, lowering her binocs. “You think the parabolic
mike can pick up any conversation from on board?”
“Not at this range,” Starlitz said.
“How about the scanner? Ship-to-shore radio?”
“Worth a try,” Starlitz said, brightening. He slid into the driver’s seat
and began fiddling with a Korean-made broadband scanner, rigged under
An elderly woman with a luggage trolley descended the pier to the
edge of the parking lot. She took off a large woven-straw sun-hat and
waved it above her head. “Yoo-hoo!”
Vanna and Mr. Judy traded looks.
“Yoo-hoo! You girls, you with the van!”
“Mother of God,” Mr. Judy muttered. She flung her braids back,
climbed into the passenger seat. “We gotta roll, Leggy!”
Starlitz looked up sharply from the scanner’s elliptical green readouts
and square yellow buttons. “You drive,” he said. He worked his way back,
between the cryptic ranks of electronic equipment lining the back of the van,
then crouched warily behind the driver’s seat. He yanked a semi-automatic
pistol from within his vest, and slid a round into the chamber.
Mr. Judy drove carefully across the gravel and pulled up beside the
woman from the cruise ship. The stranger had blue hair, orthopedic hose, a
flowered sundress. Her trolley sported a baby-blue Samsonite case, a
handbag, and a menagerie of Mexican stuffed animals: neon-green and
fuschia poodles, a pair of giant toddler-sized stuffed pandas.
Mr. Judy rolled the tinted window down. “Yes ma’am?” she said
“Can you take me to a hotel?” the woman said. She lowered her
voice. “I need — a room of my own.”
“We can take you to the lighthouse,” Mr. Judy countersigned.
“Wonderful!” the woman said, nodding. “So very nice to make this
rendezvous…. Well, it’s all here, ladies.” She waved triumphantly at her
“You’re ‘Wolverine?’” Vanna said.
“Yes I am. Sort of.” Wolverine smiled. “You see, three of the women
in my study-group have children attending Michigan State….”
“Maybe we better pat her down anyway, Jude,” Starlitz said. “She’s
got room for a couple of frag grenades in that handbag.”
Wolverine lifted a pair of hornrimmed bifocals on a neck chain and
peered through the driver’s window. She seemed surprised to see Starlitz.
“Hello, young man.”
“Que tal?” Starlitz said in resignation, putting his pistol away.
“Muy bien, senor, y usted?”
“Get her luggage, Leggy,” Mr. Judy said. “Vanna, you better let Sister
Wolverine sit in the passenger seat.”
Vanna got out and helped Wolverine into the front of the van.
Starlitz, his mouth set in a line of grim distaste, hurled the stuffed animals
into the back.
“Be careful,” Wolverine protested, “those are for my grandchildren!
The pills are in the middle, hidden in the stuffing.”
Vanna deftly ripped a seam open and burrowed into the puffed-
polyester guts of a panda. She pulled out a shining wad of contraband and
gazed at it with interest. “Where’d you find Saran Wrap in Cancun?”
“Oh, I always carry Saran Wrap, dear,” said Wolverine, fastening her
shoulder harness. “That, and nylon net.”
“Lemme drive,” Starlitz demanded, at the door. Mr. Judy nodded
and crept lithely into the back, where she sat cross-legged on the rubber-
matted aisle between the bolted-down racks of equipment. Vanna slammed
the van’s back door from the inside, locked it, and sat on Wolverine’s
Starlitz threw the van into gear. “Where you wanna go?” he said.
“Bus station, please,” Wolverine said.
“Great. No problem.” Starlitz began humming. He loved driving.
Mr. Judy broke the sutures on a lime-green poodle and removed
another neatly-wrapped bundle of abortifacient pills. “Great work,
Wolverine. You been doing this long?”
“Not long enough to get caught,” Wolverine said. She removed her
bifocals, and patted her powdered chin and forehead with a neatly folded
linen handkerchief. “‘Wolverine’ will be somebody else, next time. Don’t
expect to see me again, thank you very much.”
“We appreciate your brave action, sister,” Mr. Judy said formally.
“Please convey our very best regards to your study-group.” She rose to her
knees and extended her hand. Wolverine turned clumsily in her seat and
shook Judy’s hand warmly.
“This certainly is an odd vehicle,” Wolverine said, peering at the
blinking lights and racks of switches. “You’re not really Christian
evangelists, are you?”
“Oh no, we’re Goddess pagans,” Mr. Judy declared, carefully
disemboweling another poodle. “Our associate Leggy here bought this van
at an auction. After Six Flags Over Jesus went bust in the rape scandal. We
just use it for cover.”
“It rather worried me,” Wolverine confessed. “My friends told me to
watch out carefully for any church groups. They might be right-to-lifers.”
She glanced warily at Starlitz. “They also said that if I met any tough-
looking male hippies, that they were probably drug enforcement people.”
“Not me,” Starlitz demurred. “All D.E.A. guys have pony-tails and
“What do you do with all these machines? Are those computers?”
“It’s telephone equipment,” Mr. Judy said cheerfully. “You may have
heard of us — I mean, besides our health-and-reproductive services. People
call us the Pheminist Phone Phreaks.”
“No,” Wolverine said thoughtfully, “I hadn’t heard.”
“We’re do-it-yourself telephone operators. My hacker handle is ‘Mr.
Judy,’ and this is ‘Vanna.’”
“How do you do?” Wolverine said. “So you young ladies really know
how to operate all this machinery? That certainly is impressive.”
“Oh, it’s real simple,” Mr. Judy assured her. “This is our fax
machine…. That big noisy thing is the battery power unit. This one, with the
fake mahogany console, is our voice-mail system…. And this one, the off-
white gizmo with the peach trim, runs our satellite dish.”
“It’s the uplink,” Starlitz said, deeply pained. “Don’t call it ‘the
gizmo with peach trim.’”
“And these are home computers with modem phone-links,” Mr. Judy
said, ignoring him. “This one is running our underground bulletin board
service. We run a 900 dial-up service with this one: it has the voice
generator, and a big hard worm.”
“Hard disk. WORM drive,” Starlitz groaned.
“You know what a bridge is?” Vanna said. “That’s a conference call,
when sisters from out-of-state can all relate together.” She smiled sweetly.
“And you bill it to, like, a really big stupid corporation. Or a U.S. Army base!”
Mr Judy nodded vigorously. “We do a lot of that! Maybe you’d like to
join us on a phone-conference, sometime soon.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” Wolverine asked.
“We think of it as ‘long-distance liberation,’ “ Mr. Judy said.
“We certainly do use plenty of long-distance phone service in my
group,” Wolverine said, intrigued. “Mostly we charge it to the foundation’s
SPRINT card, though….”
“You’re nonprofit? 501(c)(3)?”
“That’s really good activist tactics, getting foundation backing,” Mr.
Judy said politely. “But we can hack all the SPRINT codes you want, right
off our Commodore.”
“It’s easy, if you’re not afraid to experiment,” Vanna said brightly. “I
mean, they’re just phones. Phones can’t hurt you.”
“And this is a cellular power-booster,” Mr. Judy said, affectionately
patting an oblong box of putty-colored high-impact polyethylene. “It’s
wonderful! The phone companies install them in places like tunnels, where
you can’t get good phone reception from your carphone. But if you know
where to find one of these for yourself, then you can liberate it, and re-wire
it. So now, this is our own little portable cellular phone-station. It patches
right into the phone network, but it doesn’t show up on their computers at
all, so there’s never any bills!”
“How do you afford all these things?” Wolverine asked.
“Oh, that’s the best part,” Mr. Judy said, “the whole operation pays
for itself! I’ll show you. Just listen to this!”
Mr. Judy typed briefly on the keyboard of a Commodore, pausing as
Leggy forded a pothole. Then she hit a return key, and twisted an audio
dial. A fist-sized audio speaker, trailing a flat rainbow-striped cord, emitted
a twittering screech. Then a hesitant male voice, lightly scratched with
static, filled the van.
“…just don’t like men any more,” the voice complained.
“Why don’t you think they like you?” a silky, breathy voice
responded. “Does it have something to do with the money?”
“It’s not the money, I tell you,” the man whined. “It’s AIDS. Men are
poisonous now.” His voice shook. “It’s all so different nowadays.”
“Why is it all so different?”
“It’s because cum is poisonous. That’s the real truth, isn’t it?” The
man was bitter suddenly, demanding. “You can die just from touching cum!
I mean, every chick I ever knew in my life was kind of scared of that stuff….
but now it’s a hundred times worse.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” the voice soothed. “You can tell me anything.”
“Well, that’s what’s so different about you,” the man told the voice
unconvincingly. “But goddamn Linda — remember I was telling you about
Linda? She acted like it was napalm or something….”
Mr. Judy turned the dial down. “This guy’s a customer of ours; he’s
talking on one of our 900 lines, and he’s paying a buck per minute on his
Vanna examined another console. “It’s a VISA card. On a savings-
and-loan from Colorado. Equifax checkout says it’s good.”
“You’re running phone pornography?” Wolverine said, appalled.
“Of course not,” Mr. Judy said. “You can’t really call it
‘pornography’ if there’s no oppression-of-women involved. Our 900 service
is entirely cruelty- and exploitation-free!”
Wolverine was skeptical. “What about that woman who’s talking on
the phone, though? You can’t tell me she’s not being exploited.”
“That’s the amazing beauty of it!” Mr. Judy declared. “There’s no real
woman there at all! That voice is just a kind of Artificial Intelligence thing!
It’s not ‘talking’ at all, really — it’s just generating speech, using Marilyn
Monroe’s voice mixed with Karen Carpenter’s. It’s all just digital, like on a
“What?” said Wolverine. “I don’t understand.”
Mr. Judy patted her console; the top was out of it, revealing a
miniature urban high-rise of accelerator cards and plug-in modules. “This
computer’s got a voice-recognition card. The software just picks words at
random out of the customer’s own sick, pathetic rant! Whenever he stops for
breath, it feeds a question back to him, using his own vocabulary. I mean, if
he talks about shaved hamsters — or whatever his kink is — then it talks
about shaved hamsters. The system knows how to construct sentences in
English, but it doesn’t have to understand a single thing he says! All it does
is claim to understand him.”
“Every two or three minutes it stops and says really nice things to him
off the hard disk,” Vanna said helpfully. “Kind of a flattery subroutine.”
“And he doesn’t realize that?”
“Nobody’s ever complained so far,” Vanna said. “We get men calling
in steady, week after week!”
“When it comes to men and sex, being human has never been part of
the transaction,” Mr. Judy said. “If you just give men exactly what they
want, they never miss the rest. It’s really true!”
Wolverine was troubled. “You must get a lot of really sick people.”
“Well, sure,” Mr. Judy said. “Actually, we hardly even bother to
listen-in to the calls any more… But if he’s really disgusting, like a child-porn
guy or something, we just rip-off his card-number and post it on an
underground bulletin board. A week later this guy gets taken to the cleaners
by hacker kids all over America.”
“How on Earth did you start this project?” Wolverine said.
“Well,” Mr. Judy said, “phreaking long-distance is an old trick. We’ve
been doing that since ’84. But we didn’t get into the heavy digital stuff till
1989.” She hesitated. “As it happens, this van itself belongs to Leggy here.”
Starlitz was watching his rear-view mirror. “Well, the van,” he
mumbled absently, “I got a lot of software with the van…. this box of
Commodore floppies tucked in the back, somebody’s back-ups, with
addresses and phone numbers… About a million suckers who’d pledged
money to Six Flags Over Jesus. Man, you can’t ask for a softer bunch of
marks and rubes than that.” He turned off the highway suddenly.
“Pretty soon we’re gonna branch out!” Mr. Judy said. “Our group are
onto something really hot here. We’re gonna run a gay-rights BBS — a
dating service — voice-mail classified ads — why, by ’95 we’ll be doing dial-
up Goddess videos on fiber-to-the-curb!”
“Problem, Jude,” Starlitz announced.
Mr. Judy’s face fell. “What is it?”
“The blue Toyota,” Starlitz said. “It picked us up outside the harbor.
Been right on our ass ever since.”
“They’ve got CB, but I don’t see any microwave,” Starlitz said.
Vanna’s blue eyes went wide. “Anti-choice people!”
“Lose ‘em,” Mr. Judy commanded.
Starlitz floored it. The van’s suspension scrunched angrily as they
pitched headlong down the road. Wolverine, clinging to her plastic
handhold above the passenger door, reached up to steady her dentures. “I’m
afraid!” she said. “Will they hurt us?”
“I can’t take this! I’m sorry! I’d rather be arrested!” Wolverine cried.
“They’re not cops, they don’t do arrests,” Starlitz said. He crossed
three lines of traffic against the light and hit an access ramp. Both Vanna
and Mr. Judy were flung headlong across their rubber mats on the floor.
The van’s jounced machinery settled with a violent clatter.
The speaker emitted a crackle and a loud dial-tone.
“God damn it, Leggy,” Mr. Judy shouted, “okay, forget ‘losing’ them!”
Starlitz ignored her, checking the mirror, then scanning the highway
mechanically. “I lost ’em, all right. For a while, anyhow.”
“Who were these people?” Wolverine wailed.
“Pro-life fanatics….” Mr Judy grunted. “Christian cultist weirdos….” She clutched a slotted metal column for support as Starlitz weaved violently
into the fast lane. “I sure hope it’s not ‘Sword of the Unborn.’ They hit a
clinic in Alabama once with a shoulder-launched rocket.”
“Hang on,” Starlitz said. He braked, fishtailed ninety degrees, then
struck out headlong across a grassy meridian. They crossed in the teeth of a
wall of oncoming traffic, off the gravelled shoulder, then up down and
through a shallow ditch. The van took a curb hard, became briefly airborne,
crossed a street, and skidded with miraculous ease through the crowded lot
of a convenience grocery.
Starlitz veered left, onto the striped tarmac of a tree-clustered strip
Starlitz drove swiftly to the back of the mall and parked illegally in the
delivery-access slot of a florist’s shop. “This baby’s kinda hard to hide,” he
said, setting the emergency brake. “Now that they’re onto us, we gotta get
the hell out of this town.”
“He’s right. I think we’d better drop you off here, Wolverine,” Mr.
Judy said. “If that’s okay with you.”
Vanna unlocked the van’s back door and flung herself out, yanking
Wolverine’s Samsonite case behind her with a thud and a clatter.
“Yes, that’s quite all right, dear,” Wolverine said dazedly. She
touched a lump on the top of her scalp, and examined the trace of blood on
her fingertips. She winced, then stuffed the Mexican straw sun-hat over
With brutal haste, Mr. Judy palpated the stuffed animals for any
remaining contraband. She flung them headlong from the van into Vanna’s
Wolverine opened the passenger door and climbed down, with
arthritic awkwardness. The tires stank direly of scorched rubber. “I’m sure
that I can call a taxi here, young man,” she told Starlitz, hanging to the door
like a drunk from a lamp-post. “Never you mind about little me….”
Starlitz was fiddling with his broadband scanner-set, below the dash.
He looked up sharply. “Right. You clean now?”
“What?” Wolverine said.
“Are you holding?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Starlitz gritted his teeth. “Do you have any illegal drugs? On your
person? Right now?”
“Oh. No. I gave them all to you!”
“Great. Then stick right by the payphones till your taxi comes. If
anyone gives you any kind of shit, scream like hell and dial 9–1–1.”
“All right,” Wolverine said bravely. “I understand. Anything else?”
“Yeah. Shut the door,” Starlitz said. Wolverine closed the door
gently. “And lose that fuckin’ ugly hat,” Starlitz muttered.
Vanna heaved the leaky stuffed-toys into Wolverine’s arms, kissed her
cheek briefly and awkwardly, then ran to the back of the van. “Split!” she
Starlitz threw it into reverse and the rear doors banged shut.
Wolverine waved dazedly as she stood beside the florist’s dumpster.
“I’m gonna take 26 West,” Starlitz announced.
“You’re kidding,” Mr. Judy said, clambering into the front passenger
seat. She tugged her harness tight as they pulled out of the mall’s parking
lot. “That’s miles out of our way! Why?”
Starlitz shrugged. “Mystical Zen intuition.”
Mr. Judy frowned at him, rubbing a bruise on her thigh. “Look, don’t
even start on me with that crap, Leggy.”
A distant trucker’s voice drawled from the scanner. “So then I tell
him, look, Alar is downright good for kids, it kills pinworms for one thing….”
Starlitz punched the radio back onto channel-scan.
Mr. Judy bent to turn down the hiss.
“Leave it,” Starlitz said. “ELINT traffic intercept. Standard evasive
“Look, Starlitz,” Mr. Judy said, “Were you ever in the US Army?”
“Then don’t talk like you were in the goddamn Army. Say something
normal. Say something like ‘maybe we can overhear what they say.’” Mr
Judy fetched a pad of Post-It notes and a pencil-stub from the glove
“I think our fax just blew a chip,” Vanna announced mournfully from
the back. “All its little red lights are blinking.”
“Small wonder! Mr. Zen Intuition here was driving like a fucking
maniac,” Mr. Judy said. She groaned. “Remind me to wrap some padding
on those goddamned metal uprights. I feel like I’ve been nunchucked.”
An excited voice burst scratchily from the scanner. “Where is Big Fish?
Repeat, where is Big Fish? What was their last heading? Ten-six,
“This is Salvation,” a second voice replied. “Calm the heck down, for
pete’s sake! We’ve got the description now. We’ll pick ’em up on 101 South if
we have to. Over.”
“Bingo,” Mr Judy exulted. “Citizen’s Band channel 13.” She made a
quick note on her Post-It pad.
Starlitz rubbed his stubbled chin. “Good thing we avoided Highway
“Don’t be smug, Leggy.”
The CB spoke up again. “This is Isaiah, everybody. On Tenth and, uh,
Sherbrooke, okay? I don’t think they could have possibly come this far,
“Heck no they couldn’t,” Salvation said angrily. “What in blazes are
you doing over into Sector B? Get back to Sector A, over.”
“Ezekiel here,” said another voice. “We’re in A, but we surmise they
must have parked somewhere. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Uhm,
“No air chatter, over,” Salvation commanded. His signal was fading.
“Salvation, ‘Ezekiel,’ and ‘Isaiah,’” Vanna said. “Wow, their handles
“I know, I know,” Judy said. “Mother of God, the bastards are
swarming like locusts. I can’t understand this!”
Starlitz sighed patiently. “Look, Jude. There’s nothing to understand,
okay? Somebody must have finked. That little coven of yours has got an
“No way!” Vanna said.
“Yes way. One of your favorite backwoods mantra-chanters is a pro-
life plant, okay? They knew we were coming here. Maybe they didn’t know
everything, but they sure knew enough to stake us out.”
Mr. Judy clenched her small, gnarled fists and stared out the
windshield, biting her lip. “Maybe it was Wolverine’s people that leaked!
Ever think of that?”
“If it were Wolverine, they’d have hit us at the docks,” Starlitz said. “You’re being a sap, Jude. Your problem is, you don’t think there’s any pro-
life woman smart enough to run a scam on the sisters. Come on, get real! It
doesn’t take genius to wear chi-pants and tattoo a yin-yang on your tit.”
Mr. Judy tugged at the front of her jersey. “Thanks a lot. Creep.”
Starlitz shrugged. “The underground-right are as smart as you are,
easy. They know everything they wanna know about the ‘Liberal Humanist
Movement.’ Hell, they’ve all got subscriptions to Utne Reader.”
“So what do you think we should do?”
Starlitz grinned. “This gig of yours is blown, so let’s forget it. Brand-
new deal, okay? Let’s card us a big rental-car and call the New
“No way,” Mr. Judy said. “No way we’re losing this van! Besides, I
draw the line at credit-card theft. Unless the victim is Republican.”
“And no way we’re calling any Polynesians, anyway,” Vanna said.
Starlitz dug in his vest for a cigarette, lit it, and blew ochre smoke
across the windshield. “I’ll trade you,” he said at last. “You tell me where
the kid is. You can borrow my van for a while, and I’ll rent a V-8 and do the
Utah run all by myself.”
“Fat chance!” Mr. Judy shouted. “Last time we trusted you with our
stash, we didn’t see you for three fucking years!”
“And we’re not telling you anything more about the kid until this is all
over,” Vanna said firmly.
Starlitz snorted smoke. “You think I got any use for a wimpy abortion
drug? Hell, RU-486 isn’t even illegal in most other countries. Lemme
deliver it — heck, I’ll even get you a receipt. And when I’m back, we all go
meet the kid. Just like we agreed before. If that goes okay, I might even
throw in the van later. Deal?”
“No deal,” Mr. Judy said.
“Think about it. It’s really a lot easier.”
Mr. Judy silently peeled the Post-It and slapped it on the scanner.
“Don’t you make trouble for us, Leggy,” Vanna spoke up. “You don’t
know anything! You don’t know who we’re meeting. You don’t know the
passwords. You don’t know the time or the place.” Vanna took a breath.
“You don’t even know which one of us is the kid’s real mother.”
“You act like that’s my fault,” Starlitz said. “That’s not the way I
remember it.” He grinned, a curl of ginseng smoke escaping his back molars.
“Anyway, I can guess.”
“No you can’t!” Vanna said heatedly. “Don’t you dare guess!”
“Forget it,” Mr. Judy said. “We shouldn’t even talk about the kid. We
shouldn’t have mentioned the kid. We won’t talk about the kid any more.
Not till the trip’s over and we’ve done the deal just like we agreed back at
“Fine,” Starlitz sneered. “That’s real handy. For you, anyway.”
Mr. Judy cracked her knuckles. “Okay, call me stupid. Call me
reckless. I admit that, okay? And if me and Vanna hadn’t both been
incredibly stupid and reckless around you three years ago, pal, there
wouldn’t even be any kid now.”
Starlitz said nothing.
Mr. Judy sniffed. “What happened that time — between the three of
us — we never talk about it, I know that…. And for God’s sake, after this,
let’s not ever talk about it again.” She lowered her voice. “But privately —
that thing we did — with the tequila and the benwa balls and the big rubber
hammock — yeah, I remember it just as well as you do, and I blame myself
for that. Completely. I take that entire karmic burden upon myself. I absorb
all guilt trips, I take upon myself complete moral accountability. Okay,
Leggy? I’m responsible, you’re not responsible. You happy now?”
“Sure thing,” Starlitz said sullenly, grinding out his cigarette.
They drove on then, in ominous silence, for two full hours: through
Portland and up the Columbia River Valley. Vanna finally broke the ice
again by passing out tofu-loaf, Ginseng Rush and rice-cakes.
“We’ve lost ’em good,” Mr. Judy decided.
“Maybe,” Starlitz said. There had been no traffic on Channel 13,
except the usual truck farmers, speedballers and lot lizards. “But the
situation’s changed some now…. Why don’t you phone your friends back at
the commune? Tell ’em to dig up my arsenal and Fed-Ex us three Mac-10s to
Pocatello. With plenty of ammo.”
Mr. Judy frowned. “So we can risk dope and federal weapons
charges? Forget it! We said no guns, remember? I don’t even think you
ought to have that goddamn pistol.”
“Sure,” Starlitz sneered, “so when they pull up right next to us at sixty
miles per, and cut loose on us with a repeating combat-shotgun….” Vanna
flinched. “Yeah,” Starlitz continued, “Judy here is gonna do a Chuck Norris
out the window and side-kick ’em right through their windshield!” He
patted his holstered gun. “Fuckin’ black belts…. I’ve seen acidheads with
“And I’ve seen you with a loaded Ingram!” Vanna retorted. “I’d rather
face a hundred right-to-lifers.”
“Oh stop it,” Mr. Judy said. “You’re both making trouble for nothing.
We lost ’em, remember? They’re probably still hunting us on 101 South. We
got a big lead now.” She munched her last rice cake. “If we had any sense,
we’d take a couple hours and completely change this van’s appearance.
Vanna’s pretty good with graphics. We can buy paint at an auto store and
re-do our van like a diaper service, or a florist’s delivery truck. Something a
lot less macho than white pearlized paint with two big chrome TV logos.”
“It’s not your van,” Starlitz said angrily. “It’s my van, and you’re
not putting any crappy slapdash paint on it. Anyway, the thing’s got to
look like a TV van. What if somebody peeks in the window and sees all this
equipment? You can’t get more suspicious and obvious than a van full of
monitors that’s painted like some wimpy diaper service. Everybody’ll think
we’re the goddamned FBI.”
“Okay, okay, have it your way,” Mr Judy shrugged. She slipped on a
pair of cheap sunglasses. “We’ll just take it easy. Keep a low profile. We’ll
make it fine.”
They spent the night in a lot in a campground near a state park on the
Oregon-Idaho border. The lots were a bargain for the TV van, for its
demand for electrical power was enormous, and rental campgrounds
offered cheap hookups. Judy and Vanna slept outside in a hemispherical,
bright pink alpine tent. Starlitz slept inside the van.
Next morning they were enjoying three bowls of muesli when an
open-faced young man in a lumberjack shirt and overalls meandered up,
carrying a rubber-antennaed cellular phone.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Hi,” Mr Judy said, pausing in mid-spoon.
“Spend a pleasant night?”
“Why don’t you guys install proper telephone hookups here?” Mr.
Judy demanded. “We need copper-cable. You know, twisted-pair.”
“Oh I’m sorry, I don’t run this campground,” the young man
apologized, propping one booted foot on the edge of their wooden picnic
table. “You see, I just happen to live in this area.” He cleared his throat. “I
thought we might counsel together about your activities.”
“Huh?” Vanna said.
“I got an alarm posted on my Christian BBS last night,” the young
man told them. “Got up at five a.m., and spent the whole morning lookin’
for you and this van.” He pointed with his thumb. “You’re the people who
import abortion pills.” He looked at them soberly. “Word’s out about you all
over our network.”
Mr. Judy put down her muesli spoon with an unsteady hand. “You’ve
made a mistake.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,” the young man said. “I’m just a
regular guy. My name’s Charles. That’s my car’s right over there.” Charles
pointed to a rust-spotted station-wagon with Idaho plates. “My wife’s in
there — Monica — and our little kid Jimmy.” He turned and waved.
Monica, in the driver’s seat, waved back, lifting her CB mike. She wore
sunglasses and a head-kerchief. She looked very anxious.
Jimmy was asleep in the back in a toddler’s safety-seat. Apparently
getting up early had been too much for the tyke.
“Our group is strictly nonviolent,” Charles said.
“Gosh, that’s swell,” Starlitz said, relaxing visibly. He splashed a
little more bottled goat-milk into his muesli.
“Violence against the unborn is wrong,” Charles said steadily. “It’s
not a ‘choice,’ it’s a child. You’re spreading a Frankenstein technology that
lets women poison and murder their own unborn children. And they can do
it in complete stealth.”
“You mean in complete privacy,” Vanna said.
Mr Judy knocked her cheap plastic bowl aside and leapt to her feet.
“Don’t even talk to him, Vanna! Leggy, start the van, let’s get out of here!”
Leggy looked up in annoyance from his half-finished cereal. “Are you
kidding? There’s only one of him. I’m not through eating yet. Kick his ass!”
Mr Judy glanced from side to side, warily. She glared at Charles, then
hitched up her pants and settled into a menacing kung-fu crouch. “Go away!
We don’t want you here.”
“It’s my moral duty to bear witness to evil,” Charles told her mildly,
showing her his open hands. “I’m not armed, and I mean you no harm. If
you feel you must hit me, then I can’t prevent you. But you’re very wrong to
answer words with blows.”
Birds sang in the pines above the campground.
“He’s right,” Vanna said in a small voice.
“‘He who diggeth a pit will fall in it,’” Charles quoted.
“Okay, okay,” Mr. Judy muttered. “I’m not going to hit you.”
“She who lives by the sword will die by it.”
Mr Judy frowned darkly. “Don’t push me, asshole!”
“I know what you’re doing, even if you yourselves are too corrupt to
recognize it,” Charles continued eagerly. “You’re trying to legitimize the
mass poisoning of the unborn generation.” Charles seemed encouraged by
their confusion, and waved his arms eloquently. “Your contempt for the
sanctity of human life legitimizes murder! Today, you’re killing kids.
Tomorrow, you’ll be renting wombs. Pretty soon you’ll be selling fetal tissue
on the open market!”
“Hey, we’re not capitalists,” Vanna protested.
Charles was on a roll. “First comes abortion, then euthanasia! The
suicide machines…. The so-called right-to-die — it’s really the right-to-kill,
isn’t it? Pretty soon you’ll be quietly poisoning not just unborn kids and old
sick people, but everybody else who’s inconvenient to you! That’s just how
the Holocaust started — with so-called euthanasia!”
“We’re not the Nazis in this situation,” Mr. Judy grated. “You’re the
“We’re pro-life. You’re making life cheap. You’re the pro-death
“Hey, don’t call us ‘secular,’” Vanna said, wounded. “We’re Goddess
Leggy was steadily munching his cereal.
“I think you should give me all those pills,” Charles said quietly. “It’s
no use going on with this scheme of yours, now that we know, and you know
that we know. Be reasonable. Just give all the pills to me, and I’ll burn them
all. You can go back home quietly. Nobody will bother you. Don’t you have
any sense of shame?”
Mr. Judy grated her teeth. “Look, buster. In a second, I’m gonna lose
my temper and break your fucking arm. I’d sure as hell rather die by the
sword than by the coat-hanger.”
“Sure, resort to repressive thuggish violence,” Charles shrugged.
“But I promise you this: you won’t thrive by your crimes. We are
“Goddamn you, that’s our slogan!” Mr Judy shouted.
Starlitz washed his muesli bowl under a rusty water-faucet, and
belched. “Well, that’s that. Let’s get goin’.” He opened the door of the van.
“We know darned well what you’re up to!” Charles cried, as Vanna
and Judy fled hastily into the van. “We’re going to videotape you, and
photograph you, and speak about you in public!” Leggy started the van and
pumped the engine. “We’re gonna make dossiers about you and put you on
our computer mailing lists!” Charles shouted, raising one callused hand in
solem imprecation. “We’ll call your Congressman and complain about you!
We’ll start civil suits and take out injunctions!”
Leggy drove away.
“We’ll call you at your home!” Charles bellowed, hands cupped at his
lips. “And call your offices! All day and all night, hundreds of us! With
automatic dialers! For years and years!” His voice faded in a final shout.
“We’ll call your parents!”
“Mother of God,” Mr Judy said, shaken, buckling herself into the
passenger seat. “That was horrible! What are we going to do about that
“No problem,” Starlitz said, setting the scanner for cellular-phone
frequencies. “I mean, my parents died in a tornado in a Florida trailer
park.” He shrugged. “And besides, I never show up on videotape.”
Mr Judy frowned suspiciously. “What do you mean?”
“It’s just this, uhm, thing that happens,” Starlitz said, shrugging. “I
mean videos just never work when they’re pointed at me. Either the
battery’s dead, or the tape jams, or the player blows a chip and just starts
blinking twelve-o’clock, or the tape splits so there’s nothing but scratches
and blur…. I just don’t show up on videotape. Ever.”
Mr Judy took a deep breath. “Leggy, that’s got to be just about the
wildest, stupidest — “
“Hush!” Starlitz said. Charles’ voice was emerging from the scanner.
“I told you they wouldn’t hurt me,” he said.
“Well, we’re not gonna follow them,” said a woman’s voice — his
wife Monica, presumably. “It’s too dangerous. I’m sure they have guns in
that van.” She lowered her voice. “Charlie, were they lesbians?”
“Well, I dunno about the guy they had with them,” Charles replied,
“but yeah, those girls were sexual deviants all right. It’s just like Salvation
told us. Really makes your blood run cold!” He paused. “Is the car fax still
working? Better dial him a report right away!”
“Typical,” Mr Judy said. “We ought to go back there and slash his
“Let’s just get out of here,” Vanna sighed.
“I don’t have to take any gay-bashing lip out of that Norman Rockwell
“If you beat him up, they’ll know we’re listening to the cellular band,”
Vanna pointed out wisely.
“Well, your pal Charlie was right about one thing,” Starlitz said
cheerfully. “This whole scam of yours is totally fucked now! Time to lose the
van and pick up some action with the Polynesians.”
“We’re going to Salt Lake City, Leggy.” Mr Judy’s face was set
stonily. “We’ll get there if we have to drive all day and all night. We’ll make
the delivery, dammit. Now it’s a matter of political principle.”
They met their first roadblock in Gooding County, Idaho. A dozen
placard-waving militants burst from the back of two pickups and threw a
cardboard box of caltrops across Highway 84. Starlitz, suspecting
landmines or blasting-caps, slowed drastically.
The sides of the van were hammered with blood-balloons, and glass
Christmas-tree ornaments filled with skunk-stinking butyl mercaptan and
rotten-egg hydrogen sulfide. An especially brave militant with a set of
grappling hooks was yanked from his feet and road-burned for ten yards.
The trucks did not pursue them. Starlitz stopped at a car-wash in
Shoshone Falls. After the stomach-turning stink-liquids had been rinsed off
with high-pressure soap, he yanked seven caltrops from the van’s tires. The
caltrops were homemade devices — golf-balls, with half-a-dozen six-inch
nails driven through them, the whole thing cunningly spray-painted black to
match highway tarmac.
“Good thing I bought these solid-rubber tires and ditched those fancy-
ass Michelins,” Starlitz said with satisfaction.
“Yeah,” Vanna said. Mr Judy said nothing. She’s given Starlitz a
hard time about the tires earlier.
“Shoulda saved money on that fancy fiber-optics kit, and gone for the
plexiglas windows, instead,” Starlitz opined. “The bulletproof option. Just
like I said.” Mr Judy, who’d done the lion’s share of the scrubbing, went to
the ladies’ and threw up.
They took 93 south of Twin Falls and across the border to Wells,
Nevada. The switch to a smaller highway seemed to stymie their pursuers,
but only temporarily. At 80 West just east of Oasis they found the desert
highway entirely blocked. A church bus full of protestors in death’s-head
masks had physically blocked the road with their black-cloaked bodies. As
the van drew nearer, they began chaining themselves together, somewhat
hampered by their placards and scythes.
Starlitz rolled down the driver’s-side window, took his hands off the
steering-wheel and stuck them both out the door, visibly. Then he hit the
The blockaders scattered wildly as the van bore down upon them.
The van whacked, bumped, and crunched over chains, scythes, and placards
as shrieks of rage and horror dopplered past the open window.
“I think you hit one of them, Leggy,” Vanna gasped.
“Nah,” Starlitz said. “Probably one of those dead-baby dummies.”
“They wouldn’t be carrying real babies with them would they?”
“In this heat?” Starlitz said.
The bus pursued them at high speed all the way to Wendover, but it
grew dark, and they entered some light traffic. Leggy turned the van’s
lights off, and pulled into an access road to the Bonneville Salt Flats. The
bus, deceived, roared past them in pursuit of someone else.
They spent the night outside the military chain-link around an Air
Force test-range, then drove into Salt Lake City in the morning.
It was Sunday, the Sabbath. Utah’s capital was utterly sepulchral.
The streets were as blank and deserted as so many bowling lanes.
The van felt pitifully conspicuous as they drove past blank storefronts
and shuttered windows. At length they hid the van on the sheltered grounds
of a planetarium and stuffed all the contraband into Mr. Judy’s backpack.
They then hiked uphill to the Utah State Capitol. The great stone
edifice was open to the public. There was not a soul inside it. No police, no
tourists — no one at all. The only company the three of them had were the
Ikegami charged-couple-device security minicams, which were bolted well
above the line-of-sight on eight-inch swivel pedestals.
“We’re early,” Mr Judy said. “Our contact hasn’t shown yet.” She
shrugged. “Might as well have a good look at the place.”
“I like this building,” Starlitz announced, gazing around raptly. “This
contact of yours must be okay. Setting up a dope-deal here in Boy Scout
Central was a way gutsy move.” He closely examined a Howard Chandler
Christy reproduction of the Signing of the US Constitution. The gilt-framed
tableau of the Founding Fathers had been formally presented to the State of
Utah by the Walt Disney Corporation.
The capitol’s rotunda was a sky-blue dome with a massive dangling
chandelier. It featured funky-looking 30s frescos with the unmistakeable
look of state-supported social-realism. “Advent of Irrigation by Pioneers.”
“Driving the Golden Spike.” “General Connor Inaugurates Mining.”
“Listen to this,” Mr. Judy marveled. “It’s a statement by the
bureaucrat that commissioned this stuff. This is the greatest opportunity
that the artists of this or any other country have ever had to show their
metal. He actually says that — ‘metal!’ It is a call to them to make good and
prove that they have something worth while to say. Yeah, unlike you, you
evil little redneck philistine! It is an opportunity to sell themselves to the
country and I know they will answer the challenge.” Suddenly she flushed.
“Take it easy,” Starlitz muttered.
“‘Sell themselves to the country,’” Judy said venomously. “Mother of
God…. sometimes you forget just how bad it really is in the good ol’ USA.”
Farther down the hall they discovered an extremely campy figurine of
an astronaut on a black plastic pedestal. The pedestal was made of O-ring
material from Utah-produced Morton Thiokol solid-rocket boosters.
Every other nook or cranny seemed to feature a lurking statue of some
fat-cat local businessman: a “world-renowned mining engineer” — a
“pioneer in the development of supermarkets.”
“Wow, look who built this place!” Mr Judy said, gazing at a bronze
plaque. “It was the Utah state governor who had Joe Hill shot by a firing
squad! Man, that sure explains a lot….”
“This place is creepin’ me out,” Vanna said, hugging herself. “Let’s go
outside and wait on the lawn….”
“No, this place is great!” Starlitz objected. “Six Flags Over Jesus was
decorated just like this…. Let’s go down in the basement!”
The basement featured a gigantic hand-embroidered silk tapestry:
with the purple slope of Mount Fuji, a couple of wooden sailboats and a big
cheesy spray of cherry blossoms. It had been presented to the People of Utah
by the Japanese American Citizens League — “For Better Americans in a
Greater America” — on July 21, 1940.
“Five months before Pearl Harbor,” Mr Judy said, aghast.
“Musta been mighty reassuring,” Starlitz said slowly. He wandered
Mr Judy stared at the eldritch relic with mingled pity and horror. “I
wonder how many of these poor people ended up in relocation camps.”
Vanna silently wiped her eyes on the tail of her shirt.
Starlitz stopped at the end of the hall and looked around the corner to
his right. “Jesus, look at that thing!” he cried suddenly, and broke into a run.
They found him with his nose pressed to the glass framework around
“The Mormon Meteor” — “designed built and driven by ‘Ab’ Jenkins on the
Bonneville Salt Flats.” The 1930s racer, which had topped two hundred
miles per hour in its day, sported a 750 hp Curtis Conqueror engine.
Streamlined to the point of phallicism, the racer was fire-engine red and
twenty-two feet long — except for the huge yellow Flash Gordon fin behind
the tiny riveted one-man cockpit.
The two women left Starlitz alone a while, respecting his obsession.
Eventually Mr Judy came to join him.
“Ab Jenkins,” Starlitz breathed aloud. “‘The only man who has raced
an automobile 24 continuous hours without leaving the driver’s seat.’”
Mr Judy laughed. “Big deal, Leggy. You think this stupid boy-toy’s
impressive?” She waved at a set of glass-fronted exhibits. “That cheap-ass
tourist art is ten times as weird. And the souvenir shop’s got a sign that says
All shoplifters will be cheerfully beaten to a pulp!”
“I wonder if it’s got any fuel in it,” Starlitz said dreamily. “The
Firestones still look good — you suppose the plug-points are clean?”
Mr Judy’s smile faded. “C’mon, Leggy. Snap out of it.”
He turned to her, his eyeballs gone dark as slate. “You don’t get it, do
you? You can’t even see it when it’s right in front of you. This is it, Jude.
The rest of the crap here is just so much cheesy bullshit, you could see stuff
like that in Romania, but this — “ he slapped the glass — “this is America,
goddamn it!” He took a deep breath. “And I want it.”
“Well, you can’t have the ‘Mormon Meteor.’”
“The hell,” he said. “Look at this glass case. One good swift kick
would break it. The cops would never expect anybody to boost this car. And
if the engine would turn over, you could drive it right out the capitol door!”
Starlitz ran both hands over his filthy hair and shivered. “Sunday night in
Mormonville — there’s not a soul in the fuckin’ streets! And the Meteor does
200 miles an hour! By dawn we could have it safely buried under a dune in
White Sands, come back whenever we need it….”
“But we don’t need it,” Mr Judy said. “We’ll never need this!”
He folded his arms. “You didn’t know you needed the van, either. And
I brought you the van, didn’t I?”
“This thing isn’t like the van. The van is useful in the liberation
Starlitz was scandalized. “Christ, you don’t know anything about
machinery. The way you talk about it, you’d think technology was for what
people need!” He took a deep breath. “Look, Jude, trust me on this. This
fucker is voodoo. It’s a canopic jar, it’s the Pharoah’s guts! It’s the Holy
Tabernacle, okay? We steal this baby, and the whole goddamn karmic
keystone falls out of this place….”
Judy frowned. “Knock it off with the New Age crap, Legs. From you,
it really sounds stupid.”
They suddenly heard the echoing chang and whine of electric guitars,
a thudding concussion of drums. Somewhere, someone in the Capitol was
They hurried back upstairs. As they drew nearer they could hear the
high-pitched wail of alien lyrics, cut with a panting electric clarinet and a
Four young Japanese women with broad-brimmed felt hats and
snarled dreadlocks were slouching against the wall of the Utah State
Capitol rotunda, clustered around a monster Sony boom-box. The women
wore short stiff paisley skirts, tattered net stockings, a great deal of eye-
makeup, and elaborate, near-psychedelic pearl-buttoned cowboy shirts.
They were nodding, foot-tapping, chainsmoking and tapping ashes into a
Mr Judy gave them the password. The Japanese women smiled
brightly, without bothering to get up. One of them turned off their howling
tape, and made introductions. Their names were Sachiho, Ako, Sayoko and
Hukie. They were an all-girl heavy-metal rockband from Tokyo called “90s
Girl” — Nineties Gyaru.
Sachiho, the 90s Girl among the foursome with the most tenacious
grasp on English, tried to get the skinny across to Vanna and Judy. The
latest CD from 90s Girl had topped out at 200,000 units, which was major
commercial action in Tokyo pop circles, but peanuts compared to the
legendary American pop market. 90s Girl, who nourished a blazing
determination to become the o-goruden bando — great golden band — of
Nipponese hard-rock, were determined to break the US through dogged
club-touring. A college-circuit alternative radio network based in Georgia
had reluctantly agreed to get them some American gigs.
The band members of 90s Girl had already spent plenty of vacation-
time slumming in Manhattan, skin-diving in Guam, and skiing in Utah, so
they figured they had the Yankee scene aced. Any serious commercial
analysis of the American rock scene made it obvious that most of the
wannabe acts in America were supporting themselves with narcotics
trafficking. This was the real nature of the American rock’n’roll competitive
The Tokyo-based management of 90s Girl had therefore made a
careful market-study of American drug-consumption patterns and concluded
that RU-486 was the hot and coming commodity. RU-486 was non-
addictive, didn’t show up on the user, and it was not yet controlled by
Yankee mafia, Jamaican dope-posses, or heavily armed Colombians. The
profit potential was bright, the consumers relatively non-violent, and the
penalties for distribution still confused.
90s Girl planned to distribute the capsules through a network of
metal-chick cult-fans in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and North
Carolina, with a final big blow-out in Brooklyn if they had any dope left
when they finished their tour.
“This management of yours,” Mr Judy said. “The people doing all this
market analysis. They’re not men, are they?”
“Oh no,” said Sachiho. “Never, never.”
“Great.” Mr Judy handed over her backpack. Nineties Girl began
stuffing dope into their camera cases.
The assorted smugglers glanced around wildly for an escape route.
There was none. The pro-life forces had deployed themselves with cunning
skill. Enemies blocked each of the rotunda exits, in groups of six.
Their leader muscled his way the the fore. “Caught you red-handed!”
he announced gleefully in the sullen silence. “You’ll hand that contraband
over now, if you please.”
“Forget it,” Mr Judy said.
“You’re not leaving this building with that wicked poison in your
possession,” the leader assured her. “We won’t allow it.”
Mr Judy glared at him. “What’re you gonna do, Mr. Non-Violence?
Preach us to death?”
“That won’t be necessary,” he said grimly, veins protruding on the
sides of his throat. “If you resist us violently, then we’ll mace you with
pepper-spray. We’ll superglue your bodies to the floor of the capitol, and
leave you there soaked in blood, with placards around your necks, fully
describing your awful crimes.” Two of the nonviolent thugs began
vigorously shaking aerosol cans.
“You Salvation?” Starlitz asked. He had slipped his hand inside his
“Some people call me that,” the leader said. He was tall and clear-
eyed and cleanshaven. He had a large nose and close-set eyes and wore a
blue denim shirt and brown sans-a-belt slacks. He looked completely
undistinguished. He looked like the kind of guy who might own a bowling
alley. The only remarkable quality about Salvation was that he clearly
meant every word he said.
“You might as well forget that gun, sir,” he said. “You can’t massacre
all of us, and we’re not afraid to die in the service of humanity. And in any
case, we’re videotaping this entire encounter. If you murder us, you’ll surely
pay a terrible price.” He clapped his hand on the shoulder of a companion
with a videocam.
The guy with the minicam spoke up in an anxious whisper, which the
odd acoustics of the rotunda carried perfectly. “Uh, Salvation …
something’s gone wrong with the camera…”
“How’d you know we were here?” Mr. Judy demanded.
“We’re monitoring the Capitol’s security cameras,” Salvation said
triumphantly, gesturing at an overhead surveillance unit. “You’re not the
only people in the world who can hack computers, you know!” He took a
deep breath. “You’re not the only people who can sing We Shall Overcome.
You’re not the only ones who can raise consciousness, and hold sit-ins, and
block streets! You thought you were the Revolution. You thought you were
the New Age. Well, ladies, we are the change. We’re the Revolution now!”
Suddenly, and without warning, a great buzzing voice echoed down
the hall behind him. “Up against the wall! “ It was the cry of a police
A squad of heavily armed Secret Service agents burst headlong into
the rotunda, in a flying wedge. Salvation’s little knot of pro-lifers scattered
and fell like bowling pins.
At the sight of the charging federal agents, Vanna, Mr Judy, and
Starlitz each sat down immediately, almost reflexively, tucking their laced
hands behind their heads. The four members of 90s Girl sat up a little
straighter, and watched bemused.
The feds surged through the rotunda like red-dogging linebackers.
The pro-lifers blocking the other exits panicked and started to flee headlong,
but were tackled and fell thrashing.
A redheaded woman in jeans and a blue-and-yellow Secret Service
windbreaker danced into the rotunda, and lifted her bullhorn again. “The
building’s surrounded by federal agents!” she bellowed electronically. “I
advise you dumb bastards to surrender peacefully!”
Her yell tore through the echoing rotunda like God shouting through
a tin drum. The pro-lifers, stunned, went limp and nonresisting. She
lowered her bullhorn and smiled at the sight of them, then nudged a nearby
agent. “Read ’em their Miranda rights, Erlichman.”
The fed, methodically bending over groups of his captured prey, began
reading aloud from a laminated index card. The pro-lifers grunted in
anguish as they were seized with cunning Secret Service judo-holds, then
trussed like turkeys with whip-thin lengths of plastic handcuff.
The woman with the bullhorn approached the assorted smugglers,
stopping by their Sony boombox. “Jane O’Houlihan, Utah Attorney
General’s office,” she announced crisply, exhibiting a brass badge.
Mr. Judy looked up brightly. “How do you do, Ms. O’Houlihan? I
think you’d better take it easy on these Japanese nationals. They’re tourists,
and don’t have anything to do with this.”
“How fuckin’ stupid do you think I am?” O’Houlihan said. She sighed
aloud. “You’re sure lucky these pro-life dorks are wanted on a Kansas
warrant for aggravated vandalism. Otherwise you and me would all be
“You don’t need to do that,” Vanna told her timidly, wide-eyed.
O’Houlihan glared at them. “I’d bust you clowns in a hot second, only
it would complicate my prosecution to bring you jerks into the picture….
Besides, these dipshits just hacked a State Police video installation. They
screwed it up, too, the cameras have been malfin’ like crazy all morning….
That’s a Section 1030 federal computer-intrusion offense! They’re gonna
“It’s certainly good to know that a sister is fully in charge of this
situation,” Mr Judy said, tentatively taking her hands from the nape of her
neck. “These right-wing vigilantes are a menace to all women’s civil rights.”
“Sister me no sisterhood,” O’Houlihan said, deftly prodding Mr. Judy
with one Adidas-clad foot. “I didn’t see you worthless New Age libbies
lifting one damn finger to help me when I was busting check-forgers in the
county attorney’s office.”
“We don’t even live around here,” Vanna protested. “We’re from Ore — I mean, we’re from another state.”
“Yeah? Well, welcome to Utah, the Beehive State. Next time stay the
fuck out of my jurisdiction.”
A Secret Service agent clomped over. His sleeveless Kevlar flak jacket
now hung loose, its velcro tabs dangling. He looked very tough indeed. He
looked as if he could bite bricks in half. “Any problem here, Janie?”
O’Houlihan smiled at him. “None at all, Bob. These are just small-
time losers…. Besides, there seems to be an international angle.” Sachiho,
Ako, Hukie and Sayoko looked up impassively, their mascara’ed eyes gone
blank with sullen global-teenager Bohemianism.
“International, huh?” Bob muttered, gazing at the girl-group as if
they’d just arrived from via saucer from Venus. “That would let the Bureau
in….” Bob adjusted his Ray-Bans. “Okay, Janie, if you say so, I guess they
walk. But be sure and upload their dossiers to Washington.”
“Will do!” O’Houlihan beamed.
Bob was reluctant. “You’re damned sure they didn’t try to get into any
“They’re not that smart,” O’Houlihan told him. Bob nodded and
returned to his cohorts, who were hauling handcuffed pro-lifers, by their
armpits, face first down the echoing corridors. The arrestees wailed in
anguish and struggled fitfully as their shoulders began to dislocate.
O’Houlihan raised the bullhorn to her lips. “Take it easy on ’em, boys!
Remember, one of them is a secret federal informant.” O’Houlihan lowered
the bullhorn and grinned wickedly.
“We don’t raid police systems,” Mr Judy assured her. “We wouldn’t
ever, ever raid federal computers.”
“I know you don’t,” O’Houlihan said, with a chilly I-know-all cop’s
smile. “But if you little hippie bitches don’t knock it off with the toll-fraud
scams, you’re gonna do time.” She examined her polished nails. “If I ever
meet you again, you’re gonna regret it. Now get lost before I change my
The seven contraceptive conspirators immediately fled the building.
The unlucky pro-life agitators, still gasping with pain and now beginning to
argue violently among themselves, were being flung headlong into a series
of white Chevy vans. “Whew,” Vanna said. “That could have been us!”
“I think that’s supposed to be us,” Mr Judy said, confused. “I mean, it
always was us before … I guess that’s what they get for trying to be us.”
“Boy, that cop Jane sure is…” Vanna drew a breath… “attractive.”
Mr Judy cast her a sharp and jealous look. “Come on! She’s the
“So what?” Vanna shot back, wounded. “I can’t help it if she happens
to be way hot.”
“Great,” Mr Judy said sourly. “Well, we’d better blow this nowhere
burg before your girlfriend puts a tail on us.”
“What about the Mormon Meteor?” Starlitz demanded suddenly.
“Have you gone completely insane?” Mr Judy said. “The place is
swarming with feds!”
“Not any more,” Starlitz said. “This is the perfect time to boost it.
They’ll blame it on Salvation’s crowd!”
Sachiho, who had been listening with interest, spoke up suddenly.
“It’s nice car,” she remarked. “Nice American car to buy for trade balance. I
like it lots! Let’s rent it and make cool videos like ZZ Top.”
“Great fuckin’ idea!” Starlitz said.
“We have a perfectly good van that’s a lot more use,” Mr Judy said.
Sachiho looked utterly blank. “Wakarimasen…. I think we Nineties
Girl have to go rehearse now.” She did a little serpentine side-step.
“Goodbye to you forever, okay?” She quipped something in Japanese to the
others. They began laughing merrily and bounced off down the stairs.
“Now that’s attitude,” Starlitz said admiringly, watching them go.
“Those gals have got some real dress sense, too.”
“But we’re done here now, Leggy,” Vanna said. “I thought you
couldn’t wait to go see the kid.”
Mr Judy took Vanna by the wrist. “I’ve got to level with you about
that issue, Leggy.”
Starlitz stopped gazing in admiration and looked up. “Yeah?”
“There isn’t any kid.”
Starlitz said nothing. His face clouded.
“Look, Leggy, think about it. We’re abortionists. We know what to do
about unwanted pregnancies. There never was a kid. We made up the kid
after you came back from Europe. I’m sorry.”
“No kid, huh,” Starlitz said. “You burned me.”
Mr Judy nodded somberly.
“It was all a scam, huh? Just some big scheme you came up with to
lead me around with.” He laughed sharply. “Jesus, I can’t believe you
thought that would work.”
“Sorry, Leggy. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Don’t hold it
Starlitz laughed. “You did it just because I got absent-minded that
time, and didn’t bring you back your dope for a while. I got a little
distracted, so you shaft me! Well, to hell with you! Goodbye forever,
Suddenly Starlitz ran downhill, headlong, after the retreating
Japanese. “Hey!” he bellowed. “Girls! Nineties Girls! Matte ite kudasai!
Roadie-san wa arimasu ka?”
Vanna and Judy watched as Starlitz vanished with the Japanese
behind a line of trees.
“Why’d you lie to him like that?” Vanna said. “That was terrible.”
Mr Judy pulled a jingling set of keys from her pocket. “‘Cause we need
that van of his, that’s why. Let’s drive it off back to Oregon while we’ve got
“He’ll get mad,” Vanna said. “And he knows where we live. He’ll
come back for all his stuff.”
“Sure, we’ll see him again all right,” Mr Judy said. “In four years or
so. He’ll never miss it, or us, in the meantime. When he sees something he
really wants, he doesn’t have any more sense than a blood-crazed weasel.”
“You’re not being very fair,” Vanna said.
“That’s just the way he is…. We can’t depend on him for anything.
We don’t dare depend on him. He can’t think politically.” Mr Judy took a
deep breath. “And even if he could think politically, he’s basically
motivated by the interests of the macho-imperialist oppressor class.”
“I was thinking mechanically, “ Vanna said. “We had a really rough
ride through the desert, and we just lost our only mechanic. I sure hope that
“Of course it’s gonna start!” Mr Judy said, annoyed. “You think we
did all those years of work, and organizing, and consciousness-raising, and
took all those risks, just to end up here in the world capital of reactionary
family-values bullshit, with our engine grinding uselessly, unable to move
one inch off dead center? That’s ridiculous.”
Vanna said nothing. Contemplating the possibility had made her go a
“Don’t be silly,” Mr Judy insisted. “We’re gonna drive it off easy as
pie. And we’ll change the paint first thing. We’ll lose that dumb-ass
televangelist logo, and paint it up as something really cool and happening.
Like a portable notary service, or a digital bookmobile.”
Vanna bit her lip. “I’m still worried…. The kid’s gonna want to know
all about her father someday. She’ll demand to know. Don’t you think so?”
“No, I don’t,” Mr Judy said, with complete conviction. “She’ll never