Bunny hops onto the trail

"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.

Bunny guided the old Bentley toward the Church of the Holy Redeemer, steering past the hordes that surrounded a stalled MTA bus on Vermont Avenue. People were jumping up and down, hands flailing at pieces of paper that floated and spun in the hot wind.

They were clutching at dollar bills, Bunny realized. Someone had lost his wallet, or, maybe in a moment of mischief or madness, had tossed the paper out of a car window. Whatever: However briefly, the air was filled with money, like a gift of rain sprinkling the desert -- needed, yet somehow dangerous, stirring memory and hope and desperation.

Two men were fighting now, kicking at each other, trying to gouge each other's eyes.

Bunny drove on, glancing toward the picture on the passenger seat beside her. It was a splotchy vivid thing in oils. She couldn't even remember where she'd got it.

That was a lie, of course. She remembered exactly where she'd got it. It had been a gift from the guy who'd overdosed in his studio in Palm Springs. He'd been married to the daughter of the man who invented bubble wrap.

Or had it been shrink wrap?

That was just one of money's many mysteries. You didn't even have to make it yourself; you just had to position yourself close, and let some of it waft in your direction.

Anyway, she'd been close to this picture when she found Bobby, choked on his own vomit. The picture had been on the wall, smack over his head.

The picture -- $125,000 at its 1965 valuation. Worth millions now, Bunny reckoned, and more portable than cash.

Had it brought her bad luck? She'd never considered the idea, luck being what you rode until the horse gave up and died.

Well, the horse was croaking now, and from the moment Theresa had shot that sad-sack wannabe thief, Bunny had understood what she must do. The message came like thunder, shaking through her mind's cobwebby corridors. Perhaps, when her mission was done and the picture had passed from her hands, her beauty would be restored. Or at least maybe she'd be able to breathe again.

You had to believe in miracles, no? That was the whole point of the God game.

And there was something else. The blond girl, Angie, Angel -- she'd misquoted the Bible at the bank and talked about the Church of the Holy Redeemer. That hadn't meant anything to Bunny, but later, when the girl spluttered the name "Rev. Franco," something rose in Bunny's mind.

Bunny felt drained and dizzy, at the end of herself. She knew she should stop but the sunlight was blinding and the traffic had thinned. The frail bones in her foot pressed down on the gas, not the brake.

The Bentley shot forward as if in panic, and Bunny thought again of Franco Laguna. She and Franco went way back.

Rayner's new book, "A Bright and Guilty Place," will be published in June. He will be in conversation with Gore Vidal at 2:30 p.m. on April 25 in Ackerman Grand Ballroom and on the "History: The Underbelly of California" panel at 2 p.m. April 26 in Haines 39 at UCLA at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.