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Bunny and the rich lady

"Money Walks," a serial novel by 16 Los Angeles writers who will be appearing at this year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, runs Monday through Saturday until April 24. The festival takes place on April 25 and 26 at UCLA.

As she listened to Angie misquote the Bible, Bunny took a few small steps toward the parking lot, where her old Bentley -- a gift from a former lover who had since renounced all material possessions -- was parked.

But once the words "church money" were spoken, Bunny stopped to take a closer look at Angie. She was a bottle blond and had yellow teeth, but she was kind of pretty in a cheap way. And she looked so gullible: She reminded Bunny of a Vegas dancer whose husband Bunny had had an affair with, way back in the day.

"Where's Holy Redeemer?" Bunny asked.

"Oh, not far. About 15 miles that-a-way," Angie said, pointing vaguely to the southeast and the other side of the hill. "All of us are gathering there this afternoon. The priest said he'd help us get our money back. See . . . he diversified. He bought a laundromat, so he thinks we can get a little cash."

Bunny hadn't used a coin-operated laundry in more than 30 years, but she knew her housekeeper did; in fact, Theresa often complained that the machine would get stuck and swallow her money. Bunny imagined stacks of quarters neatly coiled inside washers and dryers all over the city. There were thousands of people like Theresa, still using cash because they couldn't get credit. Thank God for the immigrants!

"Your priest," Bunny said, "sounds like a good man."

"Franco? I mean, the Rev. Franco? Oh, he's just the nicest -- "

A blood-curdling scream interrupted her. A middle-aged man was smashing his fist against an ATM, from which a chirpy female voice announced, "We're sorry; this machine is temporarily out of order. Please try again later."

Bunny felt a surge of panic; her breaths became more labored. "Where are you parked?" she managed to say.

"Over there," Angie said, pointing in the opposite direction of Rudy's Mercedes. "About 10 blocks up. But I ran out of gas and I only have my useless credit cards with me. I came here to get my money -- I had $475.32 in my account."

"No one's getting money from the banks," Bunny said wistfully. Oh, how she wished she were younger and stronger. She'd have put a brick through the window of that bank.

"Yeah. So, I was wondering, do you mind giving me a ride to the church?"

Bunny looked at Angie's hopeful face. It was almost as if the woman was making it easier for Bunny to get the money. "I don't mind," Bunny whispered.

"Oh, really? Thank you! I knew a fellow Christian would never let me down."

"Right," Bunny said. "Let's go."

"What about your tank?"

"I have enough gas."

"No, I mean your oxygen tank. Look at your gauge level. It's a little low. I used to be a nurse's aide before . . . uh, a long time ago. Shouldn't we stop by your house to get your refill before we go?"

Bunny checked the gauge. With all the emotions of the last couple of days, she'd been using more oxygen than usual. It wouldn't hurt to make a quick stop home on the way to the church.

"Get in," she said. She ambled over to the driver's side, then backed out of her spot and eased onto the street. There were few cars on the road, and yet she didn't notice the Mercedes that was following her.

Lalami's new novel, "Secret Son," is being published this month. She will be on the "Fiction: The Writer's Ear" panel at 12:30 p.m. April 25 in Korn Convocation Hall at UCLA at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

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