John T. Cullen's Metaphysical Fiction Gothic Noir etc

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= YANAPOP: Run For Your Life, a Love Story =

by John T. Cullen writing as John Argo


Part 2. Maritza Dusenberg

= 4. =

Southern California Gothic ModernMaritza Dusenberg was, of course, nothing like her name would lead a reasonable person to expect. Martin flew in on a commuter prop, landing at LAX. He took an Uber to a tall Art Deco building just off Wilshire Boulevard near Century City, home of some famous movie studios.

Even with Carol’s prep job, it was hard to imagine a Maritza Dusenberg until you met one. Which made life interesting. How boring otherwise.

Maritza was a smallish, caramel-skinned, attractive Brazilian woman in her mid-20s, whose grandfather had been the son of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. He’d settled in Sao Paolo during World War II, married a mixed-race woman who had inherited a fortune from her parents’ alpaca farm and other business ventures on the edge of the rain forest, and begat children among whom was Maritza’s dad. This was the story Carol gave Martin before he left San Diego, to prep him. Maritza’s dad had married a woman official at the U.S. Consulate. They’d moved with her to California when the kids were small, and started a multi-million dollar chain of pharmacies. Evidently, they were a family of go-getters in that way, and Maritza was of that same DNA. After finishing her B.A. in Economics at USC, she’d met someone in the film industry. Maritza was a great networker, according to Carol—and, not to sweat the small stuff, in a lesbian relationship with a blonde Norwegian Olympic ski champion, so that made things simple.

"So nice to meet you," said Maritza in her air conditioned glass corner office on the upsky-whatsit floor of the Whosie-wildshit Building off Wilshire. "Did you have a nice trip?"

"I flew in," Martin said absently. "I’ve made the drive so many times."

"Oh I know," Maritza said familiarly while shuffling papers on the desk. She was ever a trim, sharp blur of motion, wearing a short, black-and-white pattern dress over dark hose and shiny black patent leather shoes. Her hair was chestnut, glossy, and hanging straight, parted on one side and pinned back with a tortoise-shell clasp. Her features were exotic and pretty, with narrow almond-shaped eyes, a straight sharp little nose, and a full mouth lipsticked soft pink. Her hair swung and flew as she moved about. Martin nearly grew dizzy watching her. "I hate driving in LA. How is San Diego?"

Martin shrugged and said blandly, "San Diego is home. Sunny, balmy, you know…"

"I would love to be there," Maritza said with a certain explosiveness. "I go there whenever I can to get away from here. My mother lives in a bungalow along the shore in La Jolla."

"Do you see much of Carol?"

"Carol Monegan?" Maritza looked surprised. "Oh yeah. We are old buddies, me and her. I have a string of friends in San Diego. I went to San Diego State for two years before changing to USC." She made a mysterious face. "My girlfriend is Scandinavian and athletic, so she drags me down to places like Solana Beach and Torrey Pines and Coronado to go surfing. I get to hang out with old friends, although I don’t even know how to swim."

"I have never surfed in my life," Martin admitted. "Most of us in San Diego—the real San Diegans—if we’re not devoted beach people—we may go look at the ocean once a year."

Maritza laughed. "I like that. My kind of guy."

They made small talk for a while, until—so it seemed to Martin—Maritza was comfortable with him and willing to take a chance referring him to some of the people in her network. Thank god for Carol and her idea. Good idea, Martin thought at last, no longer reluctant.

"There is a cattle drive this afternoon at the convention hall," Maritza admitted.

"I have my folder of résumés with me."

"Good man." Maritza sat down behind her cluttered, enormous glass-topped desk. She folded her hands over a stack of manila folders and manuscripts. Behind her, through half-shuttered plate glass windows, the skyline of Los Angeles brooded in an otherworldly light, almost apocalyptic. Much had been done to clean up the infamous smog of LA, which almost rivaled that of London a century earlier, but the air was still a bit of a stew. The roiling clouds, like on an alien planet, marinated in smoldering light colored like blood and lemon plasma, if there was such a thing.

Maritza said, "I have a proposition for you. I can get you in to see someone at the convention center."

"I’m open to anything," Martin said. "Thank you."

Maritza clapped her small, caramel hands together. Her fingers were little, which made her dark red fingernails look all the larger. "Her name is Chloë, and she works for a rival of ours called Alienopolis."

"Intriguing name."

"Oh yes. They aim at a younger market in books, films, clothing, you name it."

"My friends and I are big Alienopolis fans and gamers," Martin said.

"That’s our generation, honey." She shrugged. "Who knows. Chloë has been trying to convince me to move over there for two years now, but I have a certain loyalty factor. My employers value my loyalty and my talent, and pay me well to stay here. You on the other hand, Mr. Brown, require a little help getting a foot in the door. Carol made a good case for how nice and smart you are, so I want to help out in any way that I can."

"Wow, I’m touched." That small-town networking seemed to radiate across the globe—maybe the universe—from that little crab shack on the beach in PB.

"I owe Carol," Maritza said.

"I had no idea that Carol pulls so many strings."

Maritza sat back, with her hands folded in her lap, while her feet were raised on a slightly open middle drawer of the desk.

"Have you ever been to Surf & Turf Tap in Pacific Beach?"

"Several times," Maritza said. "I have the privilege of saying that I assisted a young lady in leaving her lunch on the sand in back after she drank a few margaritas too many."

"Anyone I know?" Martin asked cautiously.

"Probably. Carol’s girlfriend Stephanie." Maritza paused. "Martin, I’m sorry. I thought you knew." Seeing his puzzled look—Martin had a sudden disoriented feeling—she added, "Carol is bi. I guess she doesn’t spread the news around San Diego. You’ll keep her secret, won’t you?" She laughed. "Nothing is ever what it seems, eh?"

"Uh—yeah." It didn’t matter to him. Carol was Carol. He’d known her since childhood, and it made no difference.

"Alicia is not, in case you are wondering." Maritza favored him with a sphinx-like look. "You guys are a wonderful little family down there, a Mafia of sorts. I love hanging out with Carol and Alicia and some of their crowd from Hillcrest and Coronado and La Jolla and whatnot." She rose and stuck her arm straight out, as if her hand were a switch on a railroad line, signaling that the interview was over. "Good luck, Martin. If you say anything, I will deny it all."

"Mum’s the word," he promised.

She saw him to the door (a huge mahogany-inlaid contraption, worthy of a spectacular film about ancient Egyptian pharaohs or something). There, she shook his hand again, wished him luck, and smiled after him as he walked down a hushed, carpeted hall big enough for a truck to drive down. It was lined with greenish, almost underwater plate glass windows, one after the other, overlooking a glowing reddish-yellow inferno in the LA atmosphere. It was like looking into a volcano. There was something mutely ominous about it. Martin could not put his finger on any sort of doom scenarios, but he was sure they were out there. It was Darwinian, like the screeching gulls in the parking lot at Arf & Scarf in PB.

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